War Maid’s Choice – Snippet 03
His eyes burned even hotter as he glared at them, his anger smoking in the air as he contemplated how close they’d come to victory, to seeing that reality — all the facets of that reality — safely locked into their possession twelve hundred of the mortals’ years ago, only to have it slip through their fingers at the last moment. It lay now like a strand of fire wrapped in shadow, its central core surrounded by the penumbra of all its potentialities, not quite within his grasp, not quite beyond it, and the long wait to determine the side to which it must ultimately fall burned in his bones like slow poison. To be sure, centuries were but the blinks of an eye to one such as himself. Or they should have been, at least…had he been one bit less aware of the galling chains the mortal concept of “time” had set upon him.
“Father, the advantage is still ours,” another voice said. “No one in all of Norfressa — except, perhaps, Wencit — even imagines what’s preparing in Kontovar. Surely –”
“Don’t speak to me of ‘surely,’ Fiendark!” Phrobus snapped, turning the full power of his glare upon his eldest son. “There was a time when Orr’s power was ‘surely’ mine! And I tell you that I’ve looked long and hard into the future of this reality and all those spinning from it, and I see confusion. I see uncertainty. And I see threads of Tomanāk’s weaving that lead to places I cannot see. Places where this reality — all of these realities, and all the myriad others which might spring from them yet — fall from our hands into his unless we cut those threads of his, and do it quickly.”
“But how, Father?” Carnadosa asked. “As Fiendark says, the advantage is still clearly ours, and Tomanāk can no more act openly in Orfressa than we can. So how can those threads of his snatch it away from us now?”
“The answer to that lies in those places beyond my vision.”
Phrobus growled his reply, and Carnadosa frowned as the thunder outside the palace rolled darker and louder. Her father was stronger than any of them, and his ability to see the strands of future and past was greater. Yet there were limits even for him, for no one could predict what future any given reality would experience. There were too many variables, too many uncertainties, and until an event actually occurred, all possible outcomes of that event were equally valid, equally possible. Some were more likely than others, and outcomes became increasingly more likely — or unlikely — as a reality approached that particular event. Yet that uncertainty meant no one could predict precisely what would happen, or exactly how it would come about, and that, too, was the fault of those maddening, unpredictable mortals.
“But it continues to depend upon Bahzell, doesn’t it?” she asked. Her father glared at her, and she bent her head slightly. “I ask because that’s my own reading of this reality, Father. If yours is different…?”
She let her voice trail off on a questioning note, fading into the rolling peals of distant thunder, and her father glared at her. Yet the question lingered, requiring answer.
“Yes,” Phrobus replied after a fulminating moment. “Bahzell is the key, but perhaps not precisely as you think. It revolves about Bahzell; yet there are so many elements in play, and Tomanāk has worked so skillfully to confuse the possibilities, that I truly can’t say it depends upon him. Still, certain aspects are clear enough, aren’t they? The Hradani are supposed to be our tools, not Tomanāk’s. They and the Sothōii are supposed to be at one another’s throats, not allies, and these accursed ‘war maids’ are an entirely new ingredient. Whatever else may be happening, Tomanāk and his meddling ‘champions’ are in the process of creating a fundamental realignment which threatens all our future plans for that reality, and Bahzell is the catalyst that brought all of them together.”
“I would never question your analysis, Father,” Fiendark said, his voice an alloy of obsequiousness and arrogance, “yet it seems unlikely to me that anything Tomanāk might accomplish where the Hradani and Sothōii are concerned could truly threaten our ultimate plans.”
“You think not?” Phrobus returned his attention to Fiendark.
For better or worse, Fiendark was his senior deputy, yet there were times when his son’s delight in destruction for destruction’s sake got in the way of more…constructive approaches to a problem. He was too likely sometimes to think in terms of simply destroying an opponent to look for more subtle opportunities…or threats.
“I admit what I have seen shows it could be highly inconvenient,” Fiendark replied now. “Their efforts might make our task more difficult, yet what if it does? In the end, the destruction will only grow greater and even more complete as their resistance delays their final defeat, and that can only serve our own ends.”
“That might seem reasonable enough,” Phrobus conceded after a moment. “But Tomanāk’s invested too much in the effort for me to simply assume it to be true, and I don’t like those threads I can’t see. No. We will assume nothing, and we will bring this Bahzell Bahnakson and all those other threads which revolve about him to nothing. Am I understood?”
Heads nodded around the throne as fresh thunder exploded outside the palace to underscore his question.
“Good,” he said with a thin smile. But his smile was only fleeting, and a frown replaced it as he gazed at Carnadosa thoughtfully.
Of all his children, she was the most subtle. Indeed, there were times when even he sometimes wondered exactly what game she might be playing. And, whether he chose to admit it or not, she was the one who most worried him. Not because he thought she was actively plotting to supplant him, but because if she ever did decide to overthrow him as he’d attempted to overthrow his own father, she was the one most likely to succeed. She was unimpressed with the taste for cruelty which infused Sharnā, just as she disdained Krahana’s hunger and Fiendark’s lust for destruction. But neither did she have any use for Krashnark’s perverse sense of honor. Pragmatism was all that mattered to her, and she was a past mistress of the indirect approach. Very few of her victims ever even suspected her presence until she pounced from the shadows.
Yet she was also capable of direct — very direct — action when it seemed called for, and her status as the patron of dark wizardry and knowledge made her followers a force to be reckoned with in any mortal reality. It was possible — indeed, probable, given the outcome — he should have given her primary responsibility for the last attempt to disrupt Tomanāk’s plans for this Bahzell Bahnakson, whatever those plans might be. He’d chosen not to because it had seemed a case in which wizardry couldn’t be openly utilized — not yet, at least. And, he admitted, because Shīgū had been so insistent on doing it her way.
But now his options were limited. Sharnā and Shīgū had both been badly damaged in their recent confrontations with Tomanāk and his accursed champions, and it would be mortal decades yet before even Krahana fully recovered.