War Maid’s Choice – Snippet 04

There were times Phrobus was forced to admit there were at least some advantages to the fashion in which Tomanāk and the other Gods of Light interacted with mortals. Their insistence that their “champions” had to give their allegiance knowingly, aware of the implications of their choices, made it far more difficult for them to enlist followers, and their refusal to simply enter into those champions and turn them into avatars limited their freedom of action. Seduction and corruption made recruitment far simpler for the Dark Gods, especially for mortals too foolish to suspect what their ultimate fate would be, and far more could be accomplished by turning those strong enough to bear the touch of godhood without being instantly destroyed into mere appendages. Not every mortal was strong enough, by any means, to be turned into an avatar, but those who were became conduits and anchors — doorways (so long as they lasted), through which their masters and mistresses could reach directly into the reality of mortals at will.

But Tomanāk and his fellows’ refusal to suborn the wills of mortals meant they could act in the mortal world only when they were allowed to — when they were invited to — by those who’d chosen to serve them. And their refusal to burn out their servants limited the total amount of their own power and presence with which they could invest them. No mortal could long survive the direct embrace of godhood, even when the god in question sought to protect him, and so the Gods of Light treated their champions with silk gloves. They gave only so much of their power as their servants could channel, and in the process they surrendered control of what their champions did with that power.

No Dark God would give up that control, nor would one of them worry himself unduly over the fate of one of his servants. Avatars existed to be used, after all, even if they tended to be…consumed quickly. Replacing them could be inconvenient, yet that was acceptable, because while they lasted, they gave their masters direct access to their own reality, and there were always others who could be recruited to replace them afterward.

Yet there was a disadvantage to that, as well, as Sharnā and ShÄ«gÅ« had both discovered. It was one thing for a god to decide to withdraw his power from an avatar in an orderly fashion; it was quite another when that avatar was destroyed before he could withdraw. When that happened, the power, the fragment of his own essence, which had been poured into his mortal tool was lost with the avatar. Worse, it left him temporarily maimed, unable to reach back into that particular reality until the strength he’d lost regenerated itself once more, and that was precisely what had happened to Sharnā and ShÄ«gÅ«.

Sharnā had largely recovered from the damage he’d taken when Bahzell slew Harnak Churnazhson, but he’d been foolish enough to invest even more of his essence in the sword with which he’d armed Harnak. He’d seen that as a way to ensure Harnak’s victory and avoid his avatar’s destruction, but it hadn’t worked out that way, and the sword touched by his essence now lay at the bottom of the sea. It would be centuries before he recovered from that, and until he did — or until the sword could be recovered from Korthrala’s keeping and returned to him — he had no personal access to that reality.

Phrobus knew his son well enough to feel confident Sharnā was far from brokenhearted by the knowledge that he couldn’t have faced Bahzell and Tomanāk in personal combat once more even if he’d wanted to…which he most definitely did not.

ShÄ«gÅ« had managed not to leave any of her being lying around in cursed weapons, but she’d never been noted for her rationality, and she’d poured herself wildly and recklessly into her avatar when she confronted Dame Kaeritha Seldansdaughter. Indeed, she would have emptied even more of herself into her tool, even at the risk of completely destroying that reality, had Tomanāk not blocked her. Given the possible consequences of any universe’s destruction, it was as well Tomanāk had, but that same block had prevented her from withdrawing any of the power she’d invested, and her avatar’s destruction had cost her even more dearly than Prince Harnak’s death had cost Sharnā.

Krahana — wiser than her brother and saner than her mother — had committed her most powerful servants to the attack on Bahzell Bahnakson, but she’d declined to face him directly through an avatar of her own. As a result, she continued to have access to Bahzell’s reality, but her resources there had been seriously curtailed. Until she could recruit or breed new servants powerful enough to replace those she’d lost, her capabilities would be only a shadow of what they had been.

And Fiendark had too many other responsibilities elsewhere (and was too fond of sheer destruction to be trusted with this task, anyway), which left only Carnadosa…and perhaps Krashnark.

“I think this has become a task for you, Carnadosa,” he said finally.

Her expression never changed, but her obsidian eyes glittered as she contemplated the possibilities. She’d been involved only peripherally in the last attempt, as the coordinator and link between ShÄ«gÅ« and Krahana, and her mortal servants had been wise enough to remain safely in the shadows rather than confront Tomanāk’s champions directly. More than that, she was unique among the Dark Gods in that she practically never used avatars of her own. Her wizard followers were usually quite powerful enough for her ends, and she had no desire at all to see her power diminished if a confrontation with one of the Light’s champions went poorly. Giving her primary responsibility in this instance would increase the odds that she would be forced to confront Tomanāk or one of the others openly, whether she wished to or not, and it would definitely raise the probability that sorcery would be used openly sooner than Phrobus could have wished. She was too canny and too well informed not to recognize at least some of the potential consequences of reintroducing the arcane into the long, simmering conflict between Norfressa and Kontovar too soon, yet if she succeeded where Sharnā, ShÄ«gÅ«, and Krahana had all failed, that entire reality would become her personal possession, and all the power generated by every mortal living in it would be added to her own.

“Obviously, our original strategy failed miserably,” he continued. “You have a free hand to formulate your own approach to the problem, although I want nothing done without my approval. We’ve failed twice already; I refuse to fail a third time. And because I refuse to fail yet again, Krashnark will assist you.”

A flicker of disappointment showed in her eyes as she contemplated being forced to share the spoils of victory with her brother, but she was too wise to protest. And too wise not to recognize what a powerful ally Krashnark could be, as well.

“I understand, Father,” she said, bending her head.

“I’m sure you do.”

Phrobus sat back in his throne once more, listening to the crash and bellow of the thunder, and his eyes were hard.

“I’m sure you do,” he repeated.