“And you are certain, Captain Selkran? Their defenses are gone?”
Captain Selkran rustled her soot black wings in quiet satisfaction and nodded.
“The Elder Gods were unusually direct, General Ankrilus. They say that the Salshirans’ guardian has abandoned them to us. Their physical defenses remain, but our magics will have free reign.”
Incredible. Wondrous. Joyous.
General Ankrilus damped his initial excitement as long experience urged him to caution. He had no doubt that his Captain was relaying the truth of what the Elder Gods said, both her skill and discipline assured him of it, but an opening that existed for one moment could close with deadly effect in the next. He needed to know more.
“Did they give any reason why?”
Captain Selkran nodded again.
“They said…” she cocked her head to one side and lidded her eyes halfway, as if searching for words. Or consulting something unseen. “Yes.” She curved her lips in a faint smile. “They say that the Salshirans have been very disobedient and have greatly offended their guardian spirit. ”
“Do they say in what way?”
“Hmmm. Only that they violated some command or other. Something of great importance.”
General Ankrilus considered whether or not to ask for more. Pressing the Elder Gods for specifics could have… undesirable… results. Especially when they had already been unusually clear.
Captain Selkran stared straight at him.
“They say to be confident. The guardian spirit will rejoice when we destroy the Salshirans, because they have broken faith with it.”
That answered his deepest concern.
“Very well then.”
General Ankrilus looked down at the map in front of him and studied it. Where once it had just shown a rough border, empty within, it now depicted in detail all the rich lands that his scouts had discovered within Salshira’s mountain-walled valley over the past several months. Cities filled with strange and powerful machines. Fertile farmland that produced crops from all over Eddenloe. Ranchland filled with livestock. Mines that poured out metals and gems. Giant buildings where people made medicines, weapons, and more machines at rates that seemed absurd. Also, libraries filled with histories and even more knowledge of wonders. Riches beyond imagining.
If someone had told him a year before that there was a country on the Empire’s doorstep that would make the mines and wheatfields of Tenkreille look like a peasant daughter’s cheap dowry compared to the Emperor’s treasury, he would have laughed at them. But then, Salshira had been a mystery. Now, it was a wondrous jewel that called to him, worth any price to own.
Of course, the princess was theirs now, and safely on her way down river to the Emperor. Their ambassador had told the Salshirans that they would withdraw if they had her.
But, in the end, the Salshirans had not, in fact, given her to them.
A small point, but it represented an excuse.
Excuses were important. Even when the obvious gain was so great.
General Ankrilus smiled, baring his razor fangs, and estimated how long it would take the remaining legions to get into place.
Less than a month.
Then he could attack all three of the main mountain passes at once. The Southwest pass was only four days’ march from their capitol. They had no real walls to speak of once the mountains were cleared, so with a breakthrough there…
Their main administration could be his within a week of beginning the invasion. From there, the whole country could be his well before the winter came. With support from the Elder Gods, it would surely happen.
And he already had the Emperor’s approval for it all. He didn’t even have to send a messenger to ask.
“Captain. Send birds and riders to the other invasion forces. We attack on the ninth of Clerin, according to the original plans.”
Captain Selkran smiled at him with hungry fangs that matched his own.
Yes. The prize would be theirs.