The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 41

Jyl fought back a near overwhelming desire to spit. The paralytic gel was gone, purged from her system by her brief transformation to her armored state, but the taste of it remained on her tongue like paint made from a rotting animal carcass. Even that was more pleasant than the idea of working with her sister though.

We need to be careful, there are seals placed all around the meeting grove, Jaan signed, using the silent language of gestures they’d been taught as young girls. Before their lives had diverged. Back when they enjoyed speaking with one another.

Warnings about seals around a protected area were obvious, but for stealth work like breaking into a foreign government’s most guarded deliberative session it was important not to forget the obvious.

They had no plan, or at least no preparations, resources or contingencies to draw on, but somehow Jaan had convinced her that they needed to infiltrate the Council’s top secret planning session anyways. Intel from the Council’s emergency session could be the key to preventing a disaster for Gallagrin and for the realms in general.

Or at least that’s what Jyl kept telling herself. In the back of her mind, she knew that Jaan could have dozens or hundreds of other goals in mind, but they were so far behind enemy lines that didn’t seem to matter anymore. Let her sister have her schemes, it wasn’t important if the Lafli family came out ahead, again, as long as it wasn’t at the expense of Gallagrin’s sovereignty.

They’re using Chasm class defensive enchantments, Jyl signed back. Both sisters were familiar with evaluating and evading mystical protections, though they came by their knowledge by very different routes.

Backed by Basilisk enhanced detection spells, Jaan signed. And those are the ones we can see.

Yeah, there’ll be others, Jyl signed. Anyone who was paranoid enough to arm their detection spells with stoning petrification effects was the textbook definition of over prepared. Fortunately that could be as much of a liability as an advantage.

We can use the Blinet corpses to get by some of the traps. Jaan suggested.

And when we run out of corpses? Jyl asked.

Then we make some more, Jaan signed.

No, Jyl signed, we’re not going to murder ourselves into a peace agreement.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but peace is a long forgotten concept at this point, Jaan signed. Ever since our Queen invaded the Council we’ve been at war with these people.

War’s end, Jyl said, and they end sooner if neither side has a blood vendetta against the other.

So what’s your plan for getting through the Council’s defenses? Jaan asked.

How good are you at transformations? Jyl asked, the seed of a plan beginning to take shape in response to her sister’s challenge.

Better than you, Jaan signed, my spirit’s had centuries of practice with all the morphic spells.

Jyl’s Pact Spirit had lain dormant for generations, but ever since they’d bound themselves to each other, they’d practiced their magic to exhaustion almost every day. That was almost enough for Jyl to be sure she was Jaan’s equal.

We’re going to sneak right in the front door then, Jyl signed.

Are you insane? Jaan asked. I just saved your life, and now you want to throw it away?

We can’t penetrate their defenses, Jyl said. We don’t have the time to study them thoroughly enough and we can’t afford to have even one of them go off.

Several are going to trigger if we try to walk through the arch that leads into the grove, Jaan signed.

Not if we look and feel like we belong there, Jyl said.

All of the Councilors are accounted for though and the meeting is already in succession. There’s no one we can pose as who has the authority to…

Jaan cut herself off as she followed the path of Jyl’s gaze. She then turned to look at her sister and raised an eyebrow.

Them? Are you serious?

You didn’t even notice them until I pointed them out did you? Jyl asked, the plan, simple though it was, taking full shape. Below them, wandering in and out of the Sacred Grove, Blinet’s scurried on four legs or two, carrying important messages back and forth between the Councilors and their staffs.

They must be enchanted with some form of identity tracking spells though, Jaan signed.

Definitely, Jyl signed. We’ll need to steal those.

Probably not possible, Jaan said, With as paranoid as the Council is they’re sure to have failsafes against that. But that can work to our favor too.

Together the sisters worked out a more complicated, and therefore more fragile, version of Jyl’s original plans.

Ten minutes later, the guarded arch recorded its first intruder as one of the Blinets set off a series of alarms. The small creature was pounced on by the Council’s security forces and wrestled over to a holding area.

Then another Blinet set off the device. The security personnel were slightly less violent with this one.

Several more Blinet’s passed into the grove without issue before a third and fourth and fifth set off the security alarms again and again.

“This can’t be right!” the second Blinet who was captured said. “The detection spells on the gate must be overloaded.”

“Shut up, there’s nothing wrong with the gate,” the lead guard said.

Then the gate sounded the alarm when one of the guards passed through it.

“Excuse me sir,” the fourth Blinet to be detained said. “I work in Dagmauru’s Sorcery division, I can check the gate if you’d like? They go out on us all the time but they’re usually pretty simple to fix.”

“I can’t let you tamper with anything here,” the lead guard said.

Two more Blinets and another guard set off the gate alarms.

“I won’t tamper at all,” the fourth Blinet said. “I just know that sometimes, with how busy everything gets, people don’t always schedule the maintenance for the spells as often as they should. Do you know if this gate had its scheduled re-enchantment rituals performed this week. We had a shadowed Moon and that’s on the list of potential static spell disruptors.”

The guard frowned and looked away, his eyes scanning the area around them as though the gate’s maintenance manifest might appear miraculously to prove he hadn’t failed in his duties.

“It will only take a me a second to check it out,” the fourth Blinet offered.

“Fine, but only you,” the guard said.

And that was how Jyl entered the Sacred Grove disguised as the fourth Blinet and Jaan entered disguised as the sixth Blinet.

Inside the Sacred Grove they had to move cautiously. Neither wanted to be seen by Dagmauru, or any of the other Councilors. Their transformation disguises were good enough to get by a guard or a hacked gate spell, but that didn’t mean some of the ancients who ruled the Council would be fooled by them.

“Pardon me,” Jaan said, grabbing a sylph who was standing guard at one of the Speaking Box doors. “Do you know where I might find Balmauru? I’m new to service and my Master Dagmauru has given me a message to deliver.”

“Balmauru is in the third tier Speaking Box at the far east end of the Glade,” the guard said.

The Sacred Grove had been built up like a grand stadium with corridors that ran around its circumference. Jaan set off counterclockwise and Jyl followed closely behind.

“Why did you ask where Balmauru was? We don’t want to talk to any of these people.”

“Exactly,” Jaan said. “If we’re stopped we need to be able to give a plausible reason for why we’re not heading towards Dagmauru given that we have his livery wrapped on our backs.”

“I’m surprised you weren’t planning to kill and gut anyone who challenged us,” Jyl said.

“I am,” Jaan said. “I just want to make sure we can get them to lower their guard first.”

“Where did you go so wrong?” Jyl asked.

“I’m a Lafli,” Jaan said. “We make our own right and wrong.”

Jyl shook her head. Tempting as it was to argue philosophical points with her sister, ideally through the use of applied violence, the middle of the Green Council’s Sacred Grove was clearly neither the time nor the place for such pursuits.

On the top floor of the Sacred Grove’s stadium-like exterior, they found the privates boxes that had been set aside for future expansion and slipped into one sufficiently far from any occupied ones that they were able to enter and crawl to the front of the box without being seen.

“And that is why, my fellow Councilors, we must end this mad aggression,” the speaker wasn’t human or elf, so Jyl couldn’t place their age. Given the assemblage and the tone of the speaker’s worlds, she had to guess that they were ancient. The inflections on their words supported that, though Jyl’s mastery over The Green Council’s High Speech wasn’t so great that she could be sure of whether the Councilors words choice was formal, archaic, or both.

“This mad aggression was not started by us,” another speaker said.

That’s Dagmauru, Jaan signed. He was the one who captured you. He was also a House Lafli ally for the last several decades.

“This mad aggression was brought to us, it wounded us, destroyed the joyous days we planned for,” Dagmauru said. “We cannot sit by while our innocents are slaughtered by the greed of foreign powers.  We cannot and we have not, but we must press further.”

“We have gone too far already,” another voice said. “Thanks to your insistence that we give in to our rage and sorrow we have broken ancient treaties and provoked mighty enemies. Even if we succeed in our aims, we will have wounded the heart of our realm.”

“We were united in this,” Dagmauru said. “By the wound to our hearts. Or have you forgotten the loss we have endured, the pain that we as a realm still suffer.”

“There will be more loss, and more suffering, if we pursue this course,” the other Councilor said. “Already we have the Queen of Gallagrin rampaging through our realm, destroying the forces that we send to stop her. We were not prepared to fight against such a foe. What happens when the Queen of Senkin joins the fray? Or the Lords of Inchesso?”

“What happens indeed,” Dagmauru said. “This is the precipice we stand on. This is turn of the season into an unknown tomorrow. No matter what we chose here today, the future will never be the same as the past.”

Jyl rolled her eyes. From the murmur of the crowds, Dagmauru’s words were stirring up some form of emotion, despite their meaninglessness. The future won’t be the same as the past? How isolated did the Council need to be to think there was anything significant about that declaration.

“If that future is going to be different though, I say we must forge it to be a better one than we have now,” Dagmauru said. “We can’t retreat, we can’t hide. We must reach forward and shape that future into one where we can flourish.”

“We cannot flourish if our roots drown in the blood of the innocent,” the other Councilor said.

“With innocent blood, a drop shed is the same as an ocean,” Dagmauru said. “In both, we see whole worlds lost. The only refuge we may seek lies in the fact that they spilled the blood of our innocents first and that, when the last drops have fallen, we will have forged a stronger, safer world for the innocents of tomorrow.”

“Speak those words to each of the innocents you have yet to slaughter,” the other Councilor said. “Ask your hearts, all of you, if this is a burden we wish to lay on the innocents yet to come? Surely it is not. Surely we must end this madness now, before the price become unbearable.”

“The price is already unbearable,” Dagmauru said. “We have mobilized our armies to reclaim and protect our future. It is far too late to turn from this path. Our only choice now lies in whether we place value on the lives of those who fight for us, or in our cowardice refuse to support them to the fullest extent possible.”

“You speak of the Blight Legions,” a third councilor said. “They have never been used in battle before, not even in the Lost Glades against the worst of the monsters left behind by the Sleeping Gods.”

“And never before have we contended with so formidable an array of foes,” Dagmauru said. “In Senkin our forces are stymied, battling troops they should have easily overrun. Gallagrin presses our advance troops and has begun to fly into our realm. Even Inchesso’s forces have begun to mobilize for war.”

“The Blight Legions may grant us victory against those forces, but can even they stand against the might of the Gallagrin Queen?” another Councilor asked.

“No,” Dagmauru said. “I do not believe they can.”

“Then what hope do we have? None of the forces we have sent against her have survived longer than a handful of seconds.”

“The Blight Legions must be called to service, but they will not be enough,” Dagmauru said. “I called this session for a far more dire judgement. Councilors, we must invoke the Divine Sanction.”

A hush fell over the entire grove. Even the far off hustle and bustle went still.

“But that is our option of last resort, it is never meant to be activated,” a Coucilor said.

“It is as you say, but the Divine Sanction is the only hope we have against the power Gallagrin has brought to bear.”

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