Jyl heard the screams from within Dagmauru’s chamber before they even reached the door.
“Well, that started early,” she said. They’d been creeping along so silently it felt like she was walking from one needlepoint to the next.
Lacking any better option, she, Jaan and Balmauru had decided to confront Dagmauru once more. If the Divine Sanction couldn’t be stopped then someone else would have to take control of it.
“No point hiding anymore then,” Jaan said. “Ok, troops, forward!”
Behind them over a dozen of the Council’s most skilled pilots threw back their cloaks and produced glowing blades that had been scavenged from the security forces sent to kill them.
“For Commander Iana!” Wylika said and the Warbringer pilots surged forth as Jy and Jaan broke into a run.
Inside the Divine Sanction’s command chamber they found no opposition. The various technicians sat in their chairs, silent, watching scrying pools and magical displays in shock. None of them even appeared to notice that the central control pod was missing.
“I don’t understand,” Balmauru said, catching up the assault force. “What has happened here?”
Jyl looked around for a clue but nothing made sense.
Images that were clearly meant to depict the Divine Sanction showed empty silhouettes. Readouts listed power consumption as a flatline and the pilot’s status as “no pilot detected”.
“Take control of the area,” Jaan said. “Get the technicians away from the controls and secure the guards.”
Wylika and the other Warbringer pilots followed the order. Jaan had no official authority over them but what she was commanding them to do made sense and given that they were in rebellion against their Council overlords anyways following the orders of someone else who was clearly a rebel too just seemed to make sense.
That Jyl and Jaan had saved them from the security forces sent to suppress their uprising had bought a certain amount of goodwill as well, even though that was mostly Balmauru’s doing.
He had been the one who heard of the defection of the Warbringer pilots. He was the one who knew where their command pods were located and he was the one who knew what the Council’s reaction would be.
“We have to save them,” Jaan had said, surprising Jyl with the unexpected outpouring of compassion. “We need an army, even a small one, and they need a leader.”
Satisfied that her sister hadn’t been replaced by a changeling, Jyl had joined Jaan and together the two of them had passed like ghosts through the Council’s domain.
Working with the Queen’s Guardians was an honor for Jyl. She enjoyed their company and felt privileged with the trust the Queen placed in her. Working with her sister was different though. However far apart their difference pushed them, there was still a common bond there, something unique that Jyl knew she would never share with another person.
Alone, Jyl was a terrifying force. The Council’s forests were her most natural environment and the magics her Pact bond gave her meant only the most observant of foes had a prayer of detecting her.
With Jaan at her side even those prayers went unanswered though.
The security force had expected to deal with fifteen highly trained young children. Dangerous if armed but manageable by virtue of their physical limitation. To combat the pilot, they’d sent thirty soldiers, armored in the Green Council’s best living platemail, and carrying an assortment of deadly weapons. Dagmauru’s allies were too close to victory to take chances, and a little overkill at the last minute had seemed only sensible.
The Lafli sisters hadn’t announced their presence. They hadn’t made any bold or dramatic gestures. The first sign the security forces had that there was more opposition than fifteen barely armed children was when their armor developed gaping holes in vital areas between one moment and the next.
Jaan struck with a cold, dispassionate clarity. Mercy was something for enemies that might potentially be allies later. Dagmauru’s supporters did not fall into that category, and so they were a threat to be ended permanently.
Jyl wasn’t as clinical. She saw a group of adults lining up to murder a group of children and let her natural instincts guide her. Nature is said to be red of tooth and claw. Jyl wound up covered in significantly more red than that.
With their army secured, Jyl are her companions had slipped back through the Green Council’s defenses to the heart of the Divine Sanction’s controls, again thanks mostly to Balmauru’s efforts.
Jyl had been certain she was leading them on a suicide mission. The Council would never let an hostile force take control of the Divine Sanction and they had to have countless failsafes and countermeasures in place to prevent that scenario. Forcing them to invoke one or more of those failsafes though seemed like the only option for buying Queen Alari the time she needed to escape.
Except it didn’t seem like there was anything to escape from.
The Divine Sanction was gone!
“Steward, report, what happened here?” Balmauru said, invoking an air of authority to snap the disarmed guard out of their stupor.
“They destroyed it,” the guard said.
“Destroyed what Steward,” Balmauru asked.
“The Divine Sanction sir,” the guard said. “It’s gone.”
“We can see that,” Jyl said. “Who destroyed it.”
“I don’t know sir,” the guard said. “It looked like the Gallagrin Queen and another woman.”
“A human woman?” Jyl asked, a guess as to the mystery woman’s identity forming in her mind.”
“I don’t think so sir,” the guard said. “She appeared in a flash of lightning, and she had incredible power. The Divine Sanction couldn’t hurt her. Our god couldn’t hurt her. They said our scans confirmed that she wasn’t a citizen of the realm. She didn’t have any natural protection, or that’s what the techs were saying. But the Divine Sanction didn’t work.”
“The sensors were fooled then,” Balmauru said, stomping over to one of the control panels.
“So the Queen and this other woman destroyed the Sanction. What happened then?” Jyl asked.
“We saw her,” the guard said.
“Who? The Queen? The other woman?” Jyl asked.
“No. Her. Tellaikai. We saw her,” the guard said.
“Who is Tellaikai?” Jyl asked.
“Our god,” Balmauru said with a voice was hollow and shaken. “Our god is free.”
Jyl’s spine froze solid in ice made of terror. A god was loose in the realm. She understood the deep and unrelenting silence of the technicians and guards.
“What, exactly, do you mean by that,” Jaan asked, her every word spoken in clipped, precise and perfect diction.
“Our god is free,” Balmauru said. “She who we bound to our service has escaped those bonds and is loose on the world with nothing to restrain her.”
It was a long and rambling version of “We’re doomed”, but Jyl was able to follow it well enough.
“Where is she now,” Jyl asked.
“They don’t know,” Balmauru said.
“She’s gone,” Dagmauru said. “She has left us.”
One moment the control pod had been missing from the center of the room. Nothing more than a vacant globe of space remaining as though it had been scooped out of the universe completely. The next moment Dagmauru sat where the control pod had once been.
He didn’t move to stand, and turn to acknowledge anyone in the room. His gaze didn’t seem to be resting on anything in the physical world at all.
“What happened?” Balmauru asked, moving over to kneel near Dagmauru.
“They freed her, the Queen and her love, they broke the bonds that kept her silent and she spoke a word and she was free,” Dagmauru said.
“She didn’t go berserk?” Balmauru asked.
“No,” Dagmauru said. “No, why would she? She is Tellaikai and she was our god.”
“Was?” Jaan asked.
“Did you speak with her?” Balmauru asked.
“Yes, and no,” Dagmauru said. “I…we walked with them before? The gods, we walked with them, worked beside them, didn’t we?”
“Yes, many times,” Balmauru said.
“We never knew them,” Dagmauru said. “We never knew their kindness. We are so small. So simple.”
“But we’ve spent centuries studying them,” Balmauru said. “We distilled their essence. We discovered how to control them.”
“No, we learned a trick, just a small thing and we built it into a weapon,” Dagmauru said. “We took something so vast and thought we understood it all, but she is so much more than we have discovered.”
“And you’re saying she’s gone?” Jyl asked.
“For now, yes, from me, always,” Dagmauru said. “She spoke to me.”
He turned to Balmauru, finally resting his gaze on someone in the room.”
“She praised me,” he said. “Told me I was clever and unique among her children.”
There was a pain in his voice that Jyl found surprisingly troubling to hear. Balmauru seemed to be of the same mind and reached out a hand to rest on Dagmauru’s shoulder.
“I told her what we’d done, what I had done,” Dagmauru said. “I tried to confess everything, but she knew. She already knew.”
“What did she say?” Balmauru asked. “What judgment did she lay upon you?”
“She didn’t,” Dagmauru’s voice was strangled with grief. “I am to be judged for my actions by those whom I have made to suffer. It will be their choice to forgive me or not.”
“You will call off this war then?” Balmauru asked.
“There is nothing left to call off,” Dagmauru said. “We are beaten. Our greatest sin lies broken and shattered, our forces have been driven back.”
“What about your allies here?” Jaan asked.
“They are done,” Dagmauru said. “With this loss, none on the Council will support them. We placed everything on this moment. It was our time to finally control the world and we would have destroyed it if we hadn’t been stopped.”
“You say that Tellaikai has left us?” Balmauru asked.
“She has left me,” Dagmauru said. “I saw her, gathering up the fallen, making the smallest of changes where her power had touched the world under our direction and I begged her to take me with her. But I am unworthy. She left me behind and she will never return for me.”
“She may not return but we are here for you still,” Balmauru said.
“I am not worthy of you either,” Dag said. “You have been brave where I have been fearful, kind where I have been cruel. You are the child Tellaikai wished for when she brought life to our realm. You walk the path that leads to her, and I have fallen so far from it.”
“Then walk with me and we will chase after her together,” Balmauru said.
“No, you shouldn’t stay with me,” Dagmauru said. “I have many judgments to face, many amends to make and punishments to endure.”
“And I will be there beside you,” Balmauru said.
By the time evening rolled around, the entire Council knew of the events of the day. Change is rarely a gentle thing but the shock from what had transpired granted the first evening afterwards a silent solemnity as everyone waited to see what the new day would hold.
Jyl was staring out at the stars from an ambassadorial suite’s balcony when she heard her sister enter the room.
“I’m surprised you didn’t lock the door?” Jaan said.
“Only worth locking it when you want to keep people out,” Jyl said.
“May I sit with you for a bit?” Jaan asked.
“Pull up a seat, there’s a nice meteor shower tonight,” Jyl said, gesturing to the second chair on the same balcony and the table with the bottles of wine and platter of food.
“You knew I would be coming by?” Jaan asked.
“No, didn’t know,” Jyl said. “But I wondered if you might.”
“I wasn’t sure I should,” Jaan said, pouring herself a glass of wine and refilling Jyls. “There seemed like a good chance you would still be angry.”
“Oh I am,” Jyl said. “I’m angry with you about so many things. Countless things. Everything I guess.”
“And yet you had a second bottle of wine brought up?” Jaan asked.
“I did,” Jyl said. “And it’s for you.”
Jaan stopped bringing the wine glass to her lips.
“And it’s not poisoned,” Jyl said, taking her gaze from the stars and offering her sister a smile.
“I can’t imagine why,” Jaan said, taking a long sip from the wine nonetheless.
“Maybe I owe you,” Jyl said.
“For saving you from Dagmauru?” Jaan asked.
“For being my sister,” Jyl said.
“I haven’t been keeping score but I suspect we would win few awards for sisterly devotion,” Jaan said.
“Yes, there are clearly people who do it better than we do,” Jyl said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that you are my sister. Horrible, terrible, miserable and mean as you are.”
“Those aren’t qualities one should forgive,” Jaan said.
“And I don’t,” Jyl said. “You’re a jerk, and you’ve been a jerk since we were little. But, what I’ve missed for a long time is that you’ve been more than that too.”
“I am also brilliant and beautiful,” Jaan said.
“And loyal, and protective, and supportive,” Jyl said.
Jaan chuckled at that.
“If you had to name the three things I am worst at, I believe you would have chosen the proper three there,” Jaan said.
“You hide it, and, like I said, you’re a jerk about it most of the time, but you grew up with our family so I understand the defense mechanisms there a little better than I did before I got away from them and could see things from the outside,” Jyl said.
“I’m not sure whether to feel flattered or abused by this?” Jaan said.
“Neither,” Jyl said. “I hated you for a long time. I blamed you for a lot of things that went wrong in our family. For Mom leaving and for all of the terrible things our grandfather did. Those aren’t on you though. Those belong to our family and they’re the ones who deserve the blame.”
“I seem to recall us fighting over things that had nothing to do with the rest of the family,” Jaan said.
“We did, and we will,” Jyl said. “You’re not bad, or evil, anymore than I’m good. You’re just you and I’m just me. I’m still more than willing to fight you if you act like a jerk, but I think I finally see that how you act and who you are aren’t intrinsically the same thing.”
“I don’t plan on meeting our gods, so I don’t foresee changing who I am like Dagmauru did if that’s what you are expecting?” Jaan said.
“Nothing like that,” Jyl said. “I just think the hate I was carrying was stupid. It was directed at the wrong person. I don’t want to hate you anymore, and I’m sad that I ever did. What I want now is my sister back. Maybe not like before, because before sucked, but maybe we can manage a bit better than that, if you’re up for trying.”
Jaan took a long sip from her wine and was silent for a moment, savoring it.
“I missed you,” she said at last. “After you left, I didn’t understand it at first. I was so mad. I stabbed your favorite pillow and burned down a bookcase.”
“Burned a bookcase? Why?” Jyl asked.
“I don’t know! Nothing made sense for a while there,” Jaan said. “You were gone and you weren’t coming back and somebody needed to burn, or be stabbed until things got better.”
“I don’t know if I should feel flattered or terrified,” Jyl said.
“Neither,” Jaan said. “I hated you too. For leaving me. For leaving the family. For being better than me.”
“When have I ever been better than you?” Jyl asked.
“Always! People would do what I wanted them to because they were gullible, or foolish, or charmed by the little elf girl, but you never used that. You always fought for what you wanted and you always got it!”
“Not always,” Jyl said. “You beat me half the time we fought.”
“That was only because you held back,” Jaan said. “And I knew it. You were too nice to go all out, and I wasn’t, so I won because you were letting me. Oh I hated you for that.”
“So why didn’t my leaving make things better then?” Jyl asked. “I thought that was what you wanted? To have the Lafli legacy all to yourself.”
“It was!” Jaan said. “I wanted that so much, just like any stupid, foolish child wants something. And then it all went wrong.”
“When I got it,” Jaan said. “Do you know what the first thing I wanted to do when grandfather officially named me his heir was?”
“Slip some poison into his drink or a dagger into his back?” Jyl asked.
“Ok, fair, the second thing then,” Jaan asked.
“Wear the ducal crown?” Jyl asked.
“No, idiot, I wanted to tell you,” Jaan said.
“To laugh at having won at last?” Jyl asked.
“To hear you laugh,” Jaan said. “That moment, right then, that was when I finally worked out what I’d lost, that was when I realized how much I’d been missing you.”
“That was a while ago wasn’t it?” Jyl asked.
“Yes it was,” Jaan said. “But what was I supposed to do? You were years gone at that point. Off carving your own path through the world, and I was tied down beneath a responsibility that felt more like a set of prisoner’s chains every day. Oh, and you hated me.”
“And now here we are,” Jyl said.
“A place where neither of our paths should ever have led,” Jaan said.
“And yet I’m kind of glad they did,” Jyl said.
“I am too,” Jaan said.
“You know we’re always going to rivals right?” Jyl said.
“The worst rivals,” Jaan said.
“But maybe we can be something more than that too?”
“Yeah, now and forever.”