The Soul’s Fortress – Chapter 20 – Rousing Ire

Miaza focused her aim on Gendaw but imagined a path through him to her true target. She hadn’t been cleared for execution, but if the princess of Gallagrin was lost in the deep shadow worlds and had the help of both a shadow dweller and two of Shadowfolk then the original scheme had failed to such a degree that wanton killing seemed like the only reasonable path forward.

“Does she have any sense of self-preservation left?” Iana asked, gazing in Miaza’s direction.

The Gallagrin princess couldn’t see her, Miaza was sure of that.

Or mostly sure of it.

Hopeful of it?

The girl wasn’t supposed to be anything special or challenging to deal with. She didn’t have a pact spirit bonded to her. She was human, and despite being raised in the Green Council that should have meant that her capabilities were well understood. The Shadowfolk practiced against humans as a baseline opponent since that was who the majority of their targets were.

It had been miserable luck and the presence of an unnaturally perceptive Faeneril that had ruined Miaza’s surveillance of the princess. She felt bad about her mistake, though being lost in the deep shadow worlds and injured almost to death seemed like sufficient penance for a minor error. What she didn’t feel was out classed by the princess.

Following the girl had been simple. Evading the other Faen had been simple. Delivering a fatal blow would have been simple too, but the mission wasn’t a simple one.

As far as Miaza knew, her partner Shippu hadn’t survived the jump into the shadows. His throat looked bad in the brief instant she’d seen him before they vanished. That they hadn’t wound up together at the same spot wasn’t unheard of but given how much good fortune she’d needed to survive, it didn’t seem probable that he’d landed in a similar situation and lived too.

So Miaza had his death to avenge as well.

“I don’t think she does,” Wynni said. “My guess is that in addition to being an utter screw up, she’s also working on a justification for why she should act directly against the parameters of the mission she was given.”

“Shippu’s not dead,” Gendaw said, concern in his voice driven by crossbow she was pointing at him. “He wasn’t strong enough to jump as far as you did so he landed closer, and we got to him in time. He might not speak again but he’s going to live.”

Miaza wondered if there was any point to maintaining the fiction that she was hidden from them. The other humans in the group were looking around and didn’t seem to be able to spy her position in the dark, but it was clear that they were also looking for other sources of danger too and not as concerned about her.

“Do you think you can talk to her?” Iana asked.

“I suppose I have to try,” Wynni said. “If I get shot though, will someone step over into the shadows and punch Silian for me. This is all his fault as far as I’m concerned.”

Miaza had to wonder if Wynni had gone insane. The woman wasn’t emotionally deranged but Silian had been dead for millenia. He was an important and revered figure, but talking to him was less likely than talking to one of the Sleeping Gods.

The scaled woman, Lagressa, began to hum a soft tune. It should have been irritating, Miaza hated music, especially any form of singing, but the humming felt too close to a natural sound to trigger Miaza’s disapproval.

Wynni relaxed visibly and walked forward, placing herself between Gendaw and Miaza.

“I know you can still shoot past me,” Wynni said. “Or through me. I’d prefer it if you did neither though.”

“Why shouldn’t I? You’re a traitor,” Miaza asked.

“No, I’m the best hope our people have,” Wynni said. “Or at least that’s what a certain annoying jerk keeps saying in my ear. Over and over and over.”

“Gendaw’s silent,” Miaza said.

“Gendaw’s not a jerk either,” Wynni said.

“I’m going to remind you that you said that,” Gendaw said.

“Sometimes you’re a clod, but do you really think I’d have spent this many years with a jerk?” Wynni asked.

“You’re both traitors,” Miaza said.

“You messed up,” Wynni said. “In fact you messed up worse than you can imagine, but honestly, none of this is your fault.”

“I will own my mistakes,” Miaza said. “They do not absolve you of keeping the company that you are in.”

She wanted to pull the trigger. Things were very broken and very wrong, and pulling the trigger on her crossbow would set off a series of events that would make everything right again.

Except she couldn’t.

She tried to tighten her finger on the trigger and something fought back.

It wasn’t fear, and it wasn’t her sense of morality.

It was her will to live.

The humming from the scaled woman reminded her of a song from her childhood. She pictured the girl she used to be. She pictured the pride her mother showed in her accomplishments. That girl couldn’t die. Not lost in the dark. Not at the hands of her own people.

She’d been picturing a scene where the hated betrayers of her race fell one after the other, their blood flowing like wine to make her drunk. That dream fizzled away though, replaced by the tableau her mind knew would the real result of her actions.

She would shoot Wynni. The bolt might or might not kill the woman, with the odds tending towards not because Miaza was an indifferent shot by Shadowfolk standards and Wynni was adept at dodging.

The bolt would connect, draw blood and before she could reload a return attack from Wynni, Gendaw or possibly the princess would strike her back. Miaza might survive the return strike but it would impair her and they would show no mercy. If their second blow wasn’t an instantly fatal one, their third would be, and all of them would land faster than she could jump to another shadow.

In the light reveries of Lagressa’s humming song, Miaza saw that she was not enacting vengeance but committing suicide, and she couldn’t move forward on that. She wanted to live.

She lowered the crossbow to her side, not giving up its protection but signaling that she wasn’t as much a threat.

“You’re mistake might have saved us all,” Wynni said.

“How?” Miaza asked, certain that Wynni was feeding her a line.

“You doomed us, and more importantly the plan we were following,” Wynni said.

“What? How would that save us?” Miaza asked.

“Because the plan was doomed overall,” Gendaw said. “You and Shippu being revealed accelerated that and made the plans shortcomings clear before they were irreversible.”

“We’ve spent years working on this plan though,” Miaza said. “The Elders have reviewed it dozens of times.”

“That’s the problem,” Iana said. “You’re Elders aren’t looking out for the welfare of your people. They have more personal concerns they’re trying to address.”

“What do you know of our Elders?” Miaza asked.

“I’ve seen it before,” Iana said.

“You’re a child. Don’t lecture me on what you’ve seen,” Miaza said.

Iana pushed past Wynni, fire burning in her eyes.

“I am a princess of Gallagrin and I was the commander of the Green Council’s Warbringers. I have invaded foreign realms and spoken with a god,” Iana said. “You can’t imagine the things I’ve seen.”

Rage flared in her breast and Miaza raised and fired her crossbow in one smooth, thought-free motion, just as she’d been trained.

The bolt splintered into dust where it hit the princess.

“And I am blessed by the first sorceress of the realm,” Iana said, brushing the dust from her shirt.

Miaza heard the crossbow clatter on the ground and wondered when her fingers had dropped it. Everything felt numb.

“That’s impossible,” she said.

“That’s what our Elder were pitting us against,” Wynni said. “They told you the assignment was a position of honor. Tonel promised you in secret that he’d clear your marriage bond with Belcon and convince your family to accept Shippu’s offer, but Tonel’s not a favorite of the match makers. He knew he wouldn’t have to follow through because he knew you weren’t going to succeed.”

“What? How? You can’t know that!” Miaza said.

“You are completely right. I wasn’t there when you got your assignment, and I’m not on Tonel’s good side, so he’d never share that information with me,” Wynni said. “You know who does know that kind of thing though?”

“Who?” Miaza asked.

“Silian,” Wynni said.

“But he’s dead?” Miaza said.

“Yeah, that’s why I thought too,” Wynni said. “Turns out he’s not, he’s just intent on making me wish he was.”

“I don’t understand?”

“Apparently I am convenient for him to talk with. Or amusing. Surprising revelation; he’s kind of a jerk! Anyways, the short bit of this story is, he’s informed on pretty much everything and since Tonel and his flunkies managed to mess up things up to the point where the survival of our entire species was in jeopardy, he decided to step in and give us a hand.”

“That’s…how can it be so bad? No one speaks to the Faen who saw us and the people there only caught the slightest glimpse of what we were before we shadow jumped.”

“Like I said, it’s not your mistake that was ultimately at fault. This whole plan was designed to destroy us.”

“But the Elders wouldn’t do that.”

“You’re Elders didn’t know what they were doing,” Iana said. “They thought they were keeping control of you all by focusing you on an external threat. The problem was they never bothered trying to understand that what they were pointing you at wasn’t a threat to them at all unless they made it one.”

“But how could our whole species be at risk?” Miaza asked.

“Silian says that provoking the ire of the most powerful queen in the world and the world’s first sorceress is something that even a Sleeping God realized was a mistake. Do you think we can fight a team that can beat a god?”

“But we were going to turn them against their nobles,” Miaza said, the plan sounding less certain with every word she uttered.

“Neither Queen Alari nor Dae are that easy to fool,” Iana said.

“And they would destroy us all for killing you?” Miaza asked.

“Queen Alari wouldn’t. I think. I’ve seen that her first instinct is kindness,” Iana said.

“But if she loses someone she cares about?” Wynni asked. “That’s Silian’s concern.”

“She had her Consort King beheaded, so she’s not all sweetness and light,” Iana said. “The real concern though would be if you convinced Dae that you were a threat to Queen Alari, and killing me might accomplish that.”

“What would happen then?” Miaza asked.

“Dae might not let you die, but I’m am very sure you would want to,” Iana said.

“Is she the devil?” Miaza asked.

“No, but do you remember how the angels of the Sleeping Gods would usually greet mortals with the words ‘be not afraid’? I think Dae is an angel like that.”

“A messanger?” Miaza asked.

“No. A horror that is being very careful to remain as human and non-threatening as possible because the one she loves wishes her to be so,” Iana said. “If there was a reason the Sleeping Gods left us, I think it was because they didn’t want to risk meeting someone like Dae, and your Elders very brilliantly tried to remove her restraints.”

“What does Silian want us to do then?” Miaza asked.

“He wants us to save our people,” Wynni said.

“But Tonel will be continuing the plan won’t he?” Miaza asked.

“Yes, he tried to carry it forward after you were lost,” Wynni said. “He sent Koblani and Pergrez to try to assassinate Princess Iana at a remote location.”

“What happened?” Miaza asked.

“The princess got the better of them,” Wynni said.

“That’s not possible,” Miaza said. “How did you see them coming?”

“I had some help,” Iana said.

“Any chance you can call on that help here?” Wynni asked.

“I believe she already has,” Lagressa said, holding a blade of gleaming moonlight in her hands.

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