Okay, so my writing rate is slowing down again. I've got to speed this up; I have two brilliant scenes coming up, but they're way the hell ahead.
Cathak Lodaris walked three steps into the command tent, sagging slightly and sitting himself carefully away from the walls. Although the tough silk that Wind Daughter used was designed to prevent easy combustion, he didn't want to risk his anima accidentally igniting the area. Wiping black blood from his daiklaves, he nodded to the tent's only current occupant. â€œI'm happy to report that the invasion force is destroyed; we just finished the last of those half-demon beasts. Once Malakin fled the field, it was mostly a foregone conclusion.â€
â€œHe will return. He overreached himself this time, but the Linowan have suffered greatly from the battle.â€ Wind Daughter's voice was faint, and she used her left arm to push herself up from her position lying on a cot on the tent's far side.
â€œI know.â€ Lodaris's voice was grim. â€œHow are your injuries?â€
â€œI will recover, thanks you you. I owe you my life, Cathak Lodaris.â€ Wind Daughter raised the stump of her right arm for emphasis - already, the torn flesh was mending. â€œWithin a few days, my arm will be as new. If only I could say the same for my people.â€
â€œIt gets worse.â€ The tent flap was pushed aside, and Thetram Nash stepped through, his anima flickering quietly around him. â€œWe've had word from the North. The icewalkers lost their last battle, and two of Samea's Circle-mates were killed. The Haltans are urgently requesting your presence - the Haslanti are pressing hard, and Queen Lani's been seen hanging around the edges. Apparantly, that beating the Shadow Phoenix gave her is wearing off, and they think she's going to commit to battle within a week.â€ He sat down heavily, grabbing a chair and sinking into it in a single, smooth motion. One hand moved to scratch at an injury, before forcibly stopping himself. â€œAt least the Varajtul stopped at Cherak.â€
â€œYes, but how long can they hold out?â€ Lodaris shook his head heavily. â€œCherak and the Linowan-Haltan League are the only places in the North not controlled by Malfeas or the Ebon Dragon, and Rubylak shows no inclination to go anywhere but right through us.â€ He looked over to Wind Daughter. â€œI hate to say it, but we may need to consider evacuating the Linowan into Haltan territory. Verr won't work alongside Lani, so we won't have to worry about co-ordinated assaults.â€
â€œNo. The Linowan's place is here.â€
â€œTo hell with that!â€ The tent flap was swung aside, as Citrios slammed through. â€œHave you looked outside? Half of the grasslands are in flames. Rubylak's overrun us on every side. If you don't revoke the barriers and let the Linowan enter Haltan territory, they are all going to die!â€
Wind Daughter looked up at him with fire in her eyes. â€œAnd if they enter Halta, they will bring chaos and confusion in their wake, and both nations will fall. Their place is here, and my place is to stand beside them.â€ She stood unsteadily, walking over to the table. â€œWe will plan for another battle. With luck, I can force Malakin into another confrontation. He will focus his efforts on me, and then the three of you can finish him off.â€ She passed her hand over the map. â€œFirst, we...â€
A hand came down heavily on hers. She froze, feeling the heat of the fire testing her dull tattoos, and looked up at Lodaris. He stared into her eyes. â€œIs that how you think this must end? A doomed stand, and a trade of you for another Conduit?â€
â€œIt solves our immediate problems. Retreat into Halta only delays them.â€
â€œDelay is our goal!â€ Lodaris did not remove his hand. â€œWhen Autochthon returns, we will have support in the North. If you die, it just means we've lost a quarter of our Primordial support. They lose a lot less. And it won't save the Linowan, because there won't be enough soldiers left to hold this nation.â€ His eyes bored into hers. â€œYou have to lower the barriers.â€
â€œNo!â€ She pulled her hand roughly away. â€œYou have no idea what you are asking! You want me to go against everything that is right, to gamble our stations and order on the return of the Rogue? Absolutely not!â€ She bared her teeth, her anima blazing to life around her in her fury, the sands of Cecelyne roaring behind her words. â€œI will not go crawling on my belly to that - that traitorous bastard! I would rather die!â€
â€œYou were willing to work with Gaia.â€ Nash's voice was deceptively mild.
â€œGaia is not the enemy of all order! Autochthon overturned the very nature of Creation when he created the Exalted! He removed the simple concept that the lesser are lesser by nature, and will remain so! He overturned the idea of spheres of influence and discrete realms of being! His toys are chaotic, and seek to spread chaos in their path!â€ Her right stub twitched, as she attempted to gesture for emphasis, and she winced abruptly and collapsed back onto the cot. Her last words came out as a mumble. â€œHe is needed. But I will not reconcile with him. Better that I die in this campaign, before he returns, and prevent the chaos that our meeting will engender.â€
â€œDragons above, are you actually that selfish?â€ Wind Daughter looked up in surprise as Lodaris stalked across the room.
â€œI am discussing sacrificing myself, trusting all of my goals to my sisters and brothers rather that disrupting our alliance.â€ The sands redoubled in intensity, and Citrios and Nash covered their eyes. â€œI will not have you mock me!â€
â€œYou are saying that it is easier for you to die than to swallow your pride.â€ Lodaris spoke the words barely over the fury of the sands. â€œEasier for you to condemn millions of Linowan to death than attempt to live. Is that your legacy? That order leads to death?â€
â€œI... it...â€ The winds winked out. Wind Daughter shook her head stubbornly. â€œYou are confusing a simple matter.â€
â€œThen let me confuse it further.â€ Lodaris leaned in. â€œYou said that you owed me your life. You're going back on that?â€
â€œWhat?â€ Wind Daughter gaped at him.
â€œYou want to spend the life you say you owe me? Spend it on getting these people to safety. Don't throw it away out of misplaced fear.â€
â€œI... you...â€ Wind Daughter made a confused sound, and then sighed. â€œI must consult with Cecelyne.â€ She paused. â€œI do not understand you in the slightest, Lodaris. I literally offered to remove myself from the world. It would have shifted the balance of power in this alliance back towards the traitors. And you argue that strenuously that I should continue?â€
â€œYes. We need you. And I'm willing to swallow my pride and admit it.â€ Lodaris smiled grimly, turning for the tent. â€œThink about it.â€ He stepped outside, gesturing to Nash and Citrios. After a moment, they followed.
Outside, Nash sighed. â€œI hope you got through to her. I hadn't realized her mental state was so fragile.â€
â€œWe're losing the North, mile by mile. Even if we convince her now, in another two months we'll be boxed into Halta and Cherak will have fallen.â€ Lodaris shook his head heavily. â€œWe can only hope that help arrives soon.â€
Nash nodded heavily, and the three heroes moved off to see what they could do to help in the aftermath of the battle. Within the tent, Wind Daughter communed with Cecelyne.
You must discharge your debt. The value of a sacrifice is that it can always be made, if needed, at a later date.
The thought was shared by them both, and Wind Daughter nodded heavily. She looked out through the tent flap at the ruins of Linowan, and tears stained her cheeks. â€œThey will not thank me for saving them in this way.â€
They are merely mortal. They cannot understand what is truly needed.
Wind Daughter considered, and nodded. But there was a new dimension to her worries. â€œCan we?â€
For this, her Mother had no answer.