Pantheon Online

C.237 Another Kind of WarOct 25, 2023

"Welcome back, father," Ania said with a smile as Harik dismounted from his horse. "I've already had the servants prepare the water for you to have a bath."

"There's no need right now," Harik replied with a grim expression. "I'll have one later. We need to have a chat first."

Harik groaned as he rubbed his buttocks before he walked toward the fortress. Ania quietly followed behind him as the warriors who had served as his guard dispersed. She politely greeted the people that worked as servants in the fortress as they passed them by. However, she was concerned about what her father wanted to talk about.

Harik seemed lost in thought as he led the way to one of the smaller rooms meant for his family to relax in. It felt strange to share his home with so many people who came and went every day since it had become the centre of government for Stormcrown. 'It won't be long til envoys and advisors from the other territories arrive.'

Harik sighed as he collapsed in a comfortable chair by the already lit fire. "Take a seat, Ania." 𝐛𝗲𝗱𝗻𝗼𝐯𝐞𝗹.𝐨𝐫𝗴

Ania nodded and chose the seat closest to her father as she studied his expression. She wanted to understand what he was thinking before he said anything. However, despite how well she knew him, she could not understand what was on his mind.

"During the meeting with the Kings and my journey home we came across a troubling issue." Harik began as he stared into the fire. "There are reports of elves in the northwest who have managed to spread their religion to some isolated villages."

"What?" Ania replied as her eyes went wide. "Elves haven't been seen in Skardia for at least a hundred years! Why would they return now?"

Harik groaned as he massaged his temples. "Let me remind you that dwarves hadn't been seen in an even longer period of time. What's changed recently that could trigger these two races to reveal themselves?"

"The gods!" Ania gasped when she realised what her father was hinting at.

"Right, the dwarves came to seek out a god to worship. The elves are probably trying to expand the influence of their god." Harik sighed as he glanced sideways at his daughter. "Times are changing, Ania. We've dealt with a lot recently, and we have to assume that the same is happening everywhere. One of the kings mentioned he sent scouts over the western mountain chain. They reported a war between the dark elves and several warbeast clans."

"So, the elves in Skardia are trying to recruit more followers to fight the warbeasts?" Ania asked as she digested the information.

"No," Harik snorted as a servant entered the room and placed a jug of warm mead and bread on the table before leaving. "They're Alder Elves. They generally hate violence, but they have deep ties with magic. They haven't shown any hostile actions except preaching what their gods can do for our people."

"So, it's a silent invasion then?" Ania replied as she tapped her chin.

"It's better to call it a religious invasion," Harik replied with a groan. "Most of our people will call out for their execution for heresy against the Skardian Pantheons and our beliefs. But we can't let that happen."

"You think their people will use their deaths as an excuse to start a war?" Ania asked when she realised where Harik was headed with the conversation.

"It's most likely that's exactly what will happen." Harik nodded before cursing as some of his mead dribbled into his beard. "We're still recovering from the war with Sommerdan. The new cities to our South should nearly be complete to act as important trade hubs with Sommerdan. The dwarves are spreading their goods across Skardia through our territories. What do you think will happen if another war starts now?"

"Commerce will come to a halt?"

"Hm, yes, but warriors will be called from all over Skardia to fight. Winter is about to strike, so what will happen without enough young folk to cut firewood or tend the winter crops?" Harik shook his head with a grim expression. "It won't only be those fighting that will die in large numbers. Even if we win, we'll be too weak to defend ourselves from another invasion or negotiate with other powers fairly."

Harik and Ania devolved into silence as they considered what the best approach to that situation would be. 'The world seems smaller somehow.' Harik thought as a long sigh escaped his lips. 'We thought the gods were here to help, but it seems like they're only bringing more problems. I don't pretend to know what goes on in their minds, or the matters in the heavens. But it feels like our lives are just a game to them.'

Harik knew his thoughts could be considered blasphemous. However, he was now the High King to the whole of Skardia and had to consider what was best for his people. 'Not that it matters. Exile is the reason I'm High King, and my daughter has a bright future ahead. It's not like we can go against the gods, but I don't think it's wise to keep placing all our faith in them.'

'What do we do?' Ania sighed to herself. 'We can't let other Pantheons invade Skardia. Exile's been benevolent enough to allow other Skardian-based gods to exist, but if other races bring their religions here it will be harder for Exile to truly shine.'

Ania chewed on her bottom lip as she gazed into the fire. She allowed the warmth of it to trigger her early memories of Exile. 'We need to counter them. It would be best if we set up small temples in the villages closest to the border and have the priests give sermons about Ragnarok. We can only fight them using their own methods. This way, they can't complain if they fail to spread their own beliefs. Nobody will die either, which will prevent them from having an excuse to invade.'

Ania further built on her idea in her mind. She considered sending pilgrims across the border to preach in the elven lands. 'It might work. It could force the elves to focus on their own domain. We just have to do it on a larger scale than they are. If they're approaching this like they would a war, then this should be them testing our defences!'

Ania cleared her throat before explaining her thoughts to her father. Harik seemed interested in the idea as it gave him a way out that would not lead to bloodshed. However, he soon let out a grunt that told Ania he had thought of something else to add to that strategy.

"You should commune with the gods and see if any of them will be willing to go with the pilgrims. They'll be more likely to convert to our religion if they actively see what our gods can do for them." Harik stated with a smile on his face. "If we're going to do this, we have to do it right. Personally, I think Bjorn is an excellent fit to lead this. His knowledge of the gods is unfathomable when it comes to the old ones. He can easily draw similarities between the new ones and what the old ones were capable of."

Ania nodded in response before making a decision of her own. "Then I'll lead the defensive group around the isolated towns and villages. That way they can put a face to the Head Oracle of the Ragnarok religion. It'll show our gods truly value them if the head of their religion personally shows her face."

"Hah!" Harik laughed loudly as he patted Ania's forearm. "You're starting to sound like a leader! It seems you're truly coming to terms with your position! But you're right, Ania. That would be the most effective measure we can take. If you run into the elves, do nothing to them. Don't allow them to bait you in any way. No matter what they may say. Do you understand?"

"Yes, father. I understand completely. The future of Skardia and our gods depend on me not making any mistakes." Ania replied with a determined expression set on her face.

"Good, then you have my blessing. You should make this happen as soon as possible. I'll send a messenger to the coast to recall Bjorn. He must be bored as all hell down there." Harik chuckled before cursing as an ember from the fire singed his beard. "Oh, there's another thing you should know about if you don't already."

"What's that?" Ania asked as she cocked an eyebrow in his direction.

"Many Oracles from all over Skardia are preparing to travel and settle down here. Apparently, their gods have commanded it with Exile's blessing." Harik sighed as he remembered he had to ask the dwarves to increase the size of Eraldsfen again. "Did you know about it?"

"No! Why would Exile allow them to settle down here?" Ania asked as she groaned at the thought of sharing Eraldsfen with a large number of other Oracles.

"Beats me, but I heard a number of Oracles died during the Shrouded Moon Festival. Maybe it's because of that?" Harik let out another long sigh as he leaned back in the chair. "It seems like Eraldsfen is going to become something like a holy capital of Skardia. It's not a bad idea, to be honest. It'll mean you can keep an eye on the other Skardian Gods while everyone in Skardia will have to pay attention to us."

Ania slowly sipped her own mead as she allowed that news to sink in. 'It'll also be like inviting the wolves into the henhouse.' Ania sighed as she carefully analysed the situation. 'But then again, it also means we can kill their Oracles more easily if they step out of line...'