The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 47

Balmauru left Dag’s control room with every fiber, root and ounce of sap trembling in frustration. Centuries of communication, every argument Balmauru could think to make, and it came down in the end that Dagmauru simply didn’t want to see the world as it was.

He hadn’t always been like that. When they’d stood freshly sprouted before the majesty of their gods, their roles had been so clear. The Council’s gift was the magic of life itself and so they were made to be Undying, able to endlessly renew themselves, living across uncounted seasons as the stewards of the will of the Green Gods.

Then the youngest of the Green Gods had fallen in battle. Authzang’s gods were victorious in that encounter but the pools of godsblood that splattered their realm proved to be the deadliest of toxins. The blighted horrors rose that from the those unhallowed sites still plagued Authzang and likely would until the ending of the world, but the damage done wasn’t limited to Authzang’s borders.

The loss of one of their own turned the Green Gods inwards. They were the avatars of life, diverse in their number as life itself must be. Death was part of the cycle they designed for mortals but not something that was ever supposed to come for them.

Under their focused scrutiny, the Green Council became the most magically adept of all the realms. It was a mystical might that was always held in check though. None of the Green Gods would allow their mortals to use their divine gifts against the other realms. No revenge for the fallen god was ever allowed or spoke of.

By the express order of their divine will, the Green God’s magic was for the Council’s realm and people alone. What trade occurred with the Council’s neighbors was limited to naturally produced items being exported from the Council in exchange for materials and foods which couldn’t be found within the Council’s realm. They weren’t cut off from the world entirely, none of the gods of the Blessed Realms would tolerate that, but from within the deep forests only a narrow slice of the rest of the realms was visible.

Balmauru regretted never trying to expand on that after the fall of the gods. It had taken so long though to accept that they were gone. So long to believe they had left their servants to fend for themselves. Some of Balmauru’s deep roots still quested for the gods. Still longed to hear their voices and feel the warmth of their regard. The Green Gods were not always kind, but their simplest gestures offered a greater security than anything Balmauru had felt in the centuries since they passed.

It had been that deep rooted desire for their presence that had made the idea of resurrecting them palatable.

To be fair though, Balmauru sighed, Dagmauru was also extraordinarily persuasive when he chose to be.

The Silver Pool was Balmauru’s favorite meditation room in the Council headquarters. It was far from Dagmauru’s command room but the long and winding path was so familiar Balmauru could walk it without paying the slightest attention. At its end, a familiar seat by the glittering pool sat waiting and open.

“Perhaps I need to clear my head more than I thought,” Balmauru mused, moving to the well worn perch.

Waiting beside the seat were two of the ubiquitous Blivets. They were the only ones in the Silver Pool room aside from Balmauru, which wasn’t surprising in itself. With the Council still technically in-session until the immediate crisis was resolved the other councilors and their support staff had more important tasks to attend to than a bit of quiet meditation.

Balmauru looked at the Blivets more closely though. It wasn’t odd, as a general case, to see them aorund, but these two in particular stood out. The first detail that supported that observation was their coloration. They were identical, and Blivet twins were extremely rare.

But these weren’t Blivets. Balmauru noticed that the moment they turned towards each other. Their movements were too similar. And their auras were all wrong for being Blivets.

“Who are you?” Balmauru had a guess as to their identities but it was such an unlikely scenario that it was still a root curdling surprise when the two dropped their disguises and stood revealed as Gallagrin Knights.

“I am Jaan Lafli, and this is my sister Jyl,” the one on the left said.

“We heard you speak before the assembly,” Jyl said. “We’d like to help you pull the Council away from its wartime footing.”

“You risk much in coming here,” Balmauru said, trying to take their measure. Pact Knights were dangerous, and the Silver Pool was an isolated enough location that any help was bound to arrive far too late.

“It was her idea,” Jyl said. “She claimed that you have connections with the Lafli family.”

“I have connections with many people,” Balmauru said. The Lafli family were one of the more voracious of the Council’s lost clans. They’d fled the Council’s lands during the diaspora that followed the Green Gods descending into their slumber. The Laflis already had strong ties to Gallagrin at that point and had managed to claim a noble position there.

In the centuries that followed, the Lafli’s had done little to distinguish themselves in Balmauru’s estimations. Opportunists and schemers to a fault. To find them present inside the Council’s domain at this juncture was sufficiently out of character for that family that Balmauru was more than half convinced they were nothing more than simple spies.

But what sort of simple spies could penetrate into the most tightly defended place in the Green Council’s realm?

“We aren’t looking for special consideration,” Jaan said. “Nor, I believe, are we acting against the best interests of the Green Council in this matter.”

“And what do you imagine the best interests of the Green Council to be?” Balmauru asked.

“Certainly not war with three of your neighbors,” Jyl said.

“And yet war is upon us,” Balmauru said. “It seems the time for words to avoid that has passed.”

“Maybe not,” Jaan said. “We heard the Council vote in favor of releasing the Blighted Legion and the Divine Sanction, but if those initiatives fail, there’ll be a window to call for an end to this madness.”

“A member of the Lafli calls war a madness?” Balmauru asked. “In my experience your clan has always stood ready to profit off conflict. I can’t recall the last time a Lafli attempted to suppress a war.”

“This isn’t a war we can profit from,” Jaan said. “That is what makes it madness.”

“More importantly,” Jyl said. “This isn’t a war that the Council can profit from either.”

“And how would you have me convince the rest of the Council of that?” Balmauru asked.

“When the Blighted Legion and the Divine Sanction fail, let us speak before the Council,” Jyl said. “I am one of Queen Alari’s Guardians. I do not carry her voice, but I can bear witness as to her intentions in crossing into your realm.”

Balmauru chuckled.

“Your words might indeed sway those not fully committed to this war, and there are enough of them to easily swing the decision back to peace. Alas you will never be able to address them.”

“Why?” Jaan asked. “If Dagmauru’s forces are the problem, we can deal with them.”

“It’s not Dag’s troops that are the obstacle,” Balmauru said. “They’ll need to be dealt with, but the primary reason you won’t be able to address the Council is because the Divine Sanction cannot be overcome.”

“Anything can be overcome,” Jyl said. “You just need to know what its weaknesses are.”

“The Divine Sanction has no weaknesses,” Balmauru said. “It is perfect, as befits its Divine Nature.”

“Divine nature?” Jaan asked. “What have you done?”

Balmauru saw the dawning of expression of horror on the sister’s faces.

“It is as you imagine. We have distilled the essence of our gods and brought them back into the world. The Divine Sanction has the harnessed heartfire of the Green Gods themselves.”

“That’s…” Jyl stammered, and blinked.

“ abomination,” Jaan said, her eyes colder than ice.

“Yes, an abomination. And the ultimate blasphemy. And a sacred working,” Balmauru said. “We have chained our gods and made them answer to our will. By some measures that is the greatest sin imaginable, by others it is the deepest expression of love.”

“In what insane world could that ever be love?” Jyl asked.

“For we so loved the Green Gods, that we did not let even death itself divide us from them,” Balmauru said. “This was the only choice we had to bring them back, and so bring them back we did.”

“Why?” Jyl asked.

“You never knew the touch of the gods. You never felt them speak to your soul. You do not know how empty this world is without their presence,” Balmauru said. “If you did, you would never ask why, or at what cost.”

“You didn’t just bring them back though,” Jaan said. “You weaponized them.”

“I could say that it was Dagmauru who did that,” Bal said. “I only wished for their presence, but I knew where our research would lead. Their power was meant to serves as a shield for us. To protect us and keep our realm safe as it had been before they left.”

“Doesn’t seem like it’s doing much protecting at the moment,” Jyl said.

“Not true,” Jaan said. “Dagmauru is using both the Blighted Legion and the Divine Sanction to protect the Council’s interests. But the Council’s interests are no longer ones that agree with what the Green Gods would have chosen for it, are they?”

“No, they are not,” Balmauru said. “But with the power of a god to enforce his will, there is nothing in the realms that can stand against Dagmauru.”

“The Divine Sanction can’t be perfect though,” Jyl said. “It may have distilled a god’s power but it was made by mortals and we’re nothing if not a bunch of screwups.”

“The Sanction is the product of the centuries of the greatest research ever performed by a Mindful race,” Balmauru said. “Even the few flaws it has do not work in our favor.”

“Why? How is it designed to fail?” Jaan asked.

“We brought our gods back for the defense of our realm,” Balmauru said. “Or pieces of our gods. Even with our greatest magics we couldn’t do more than summon simulacrums of our deities. The Sanctions are no mere copies though. Within them each lies a true spark of the Divine, and even that fraction of their power is still infinite.”

“That’s not possible,” Jyl said. “You’d never be able to control infinite power.”

“We don’t,” Balmauru said. “The god controls their power. We simply control the god via a series of transcendental binding spells.”

“And if those binding spells are broken?” Jaan asked.

“Then the one who controls the Sanction will burn in its power and the divine spark will rage outwards without restraint.”

“But if the power is infinite?” Jyl asked.

“Yes, with infinite power comes infinite devastation,” Balmauru said.

“The Council would be destroyed too though wouldn’t it?” Jyl asked.

“In the event of a catastrophic failure, yes,” Balmauru said. “Which is why the Divine Sanction was only to be used as a tool of last resort. If the Green Council faced an existential crisis then there would be little harm in risking annihilation to prevent it.”

“Except for the harm you’d inflict on the rest of the realms,” Jyl said.

“We have a serious problem,” Jaan said.

“Yes. Perhaps, if I keep you with my staff, I can arrange for some sanctuary for you once the fighting is complete.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Jaan said and glanced at her sister.

“You think our Queen can break the bindings?” Jyl said.

“You know her best,” Jaan said. “Based on what she’s done so far though, would that be so implausible?”

“No,” Jyl said. “No it wouldn’t be. That raises another question though.”

“Can she stop a god from going berserk and destroying the world?” Jaan asked.

“Nothing mortal can withstand the force of a Berserker God,” Balmauru said. “Even your Queen with all the might of a divinely gifted spirit is still not the same order of being as the Divine Sanction. No matter what is done to strike at the Council’s forces from this point forward, there can be no victory. Your queen has already fallen. Dagmauru will collect her for study unless she finds the strength to rise again, and if she can manage that, he will destroy her, of that there is no doubt.”

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