“Don’t fight them on a battlefield or in a graveyard. Don’t fight them with a large number of people. Use poison, assassination or overwhelming force in single combat.”
-Rules for engaging a Mirai necromancer
***Empire, Northern Coast***
Three seemingly endless weeks of pillaging and burning villages. The emperor truly doesn't care about his subjects as long as he himself is safe.
I study the observation platform of the Zenith, my flagship. The captain and my general are studying a magical projection of our current situation. They are concerned about our positioning. We are twenty kilometres away from the northern coast. Beneath us is only the empty sea.
Our fleet is in a steep climb and rapidly gaining altitude, while eighty-seven ships of the empire are two kilometres behind and seven kilometres below us. They are just out of effective range. Anything one side may throw at the other can be countered at such a large distance.
We'd been playing cat and mouse with them for weeks until they caught up early this morning.
I close my eyes and try to consider our options. We outnumber the Empire, but except for the Zenith and her sisters, our ships are all smaller than theirs. Which means that they either have stronger power stones or have more of them on their ships. Is it is safe to assume that they also have more firepower?
So numbers alone won't win us the battle. We need a way to bring them to bear. It's very likely that they can take us on in terms of offensive and defensive magic. Should we simply flee towards the open sea? The empire will be reluctant to start a battle where every lost ship is a guaranteed lost power stone.
Minx, my familiar, walks elegantly up the stairway and cuddles with my leg. The white ghostcat has been a pet of my dynasty for generations. I kneel down and pet the animal, then I return to my position at the balustrade. But Minx isn't satisfied and jumps onto the railing to walk along it, positioning herself in front of me.
I chuckle and continue to caress her.
“My sovereign? An urgent message from one of our diplomats.” A messenger arrives and kneels down, presenting me with one of the many communication crystals which we always have with us. I may be overseeing this campaign, but I am still the matriarch of my people.
I hold out my hand and he hands me the crystal. I notice that his hand is warm. He hasn't started his last journey yet. It's a blessing to be alive and at the same time, it's strange to serve in the military while being alive. Most Mirai only join once they died. The messenger quickly retreats and leaves me alone. He doesn't deserve to listen in on matters of the state.
I try to relax my voice and raise the crystal to my ear. “Sovereign of the Mirai State, Janice. Who am I speaking to?”
“Your trusted envoy, Emil Fotenu, directly from Unis. You yourself gave me my second life and I honour you, Sovereign! May the Dynasty last forever. It seems like I am finally able to repay my debt.”
I roll my eyes. The dead are always so formal. I really have to find a way to weed out those who suffer from too much religious zeal. Reviving people who already were a pain in the ass while they were alive isn't a good idea. A little worship for the dynasty is good, but many overdo it. “Speak.”
“I found her. I found your granddaughter. Nova Mirai, the princess is alive!”
I clench my teeth and grip the communication crystal tighter. My emotional outburst scares Minx and she jumps out of my reach. “If this is a joke, then I am not amused. You have no idea-”
“Please! This isn't a joke! I would never do something so horrible to someone who is mourning. You didn't even get the chance to revive her to a second life. I know that we thought her dead, but she must have survived Orwen. She is breathing and alive.”
He interrupted me, but maybe I'll let that slide. “Explain.”
“I encountered her at prince Gregor's birthday party. She is going by the name of Joyce and governs a floating island by the name of Illum. You must have already heard about it. It’s big news. She appeared out of nowhere as far as the Alliance is concerned. Incredible magical talent and power.”
I close my eyes and hold onto the balustrade. Of course, I have heard about this wondrous island. “Your description doesn't add up. Nova had been a slave of the Empire since she was born. My intelligence officers said that she wasn't treated well. Even if she survived, she should be a drooling idiot. And assuming that our best healers take care of her, re-education and therapy would take decades. There is no way that Joyce is my granddaughter.”
“But I stood in front of her! Pale skin, black hair. She even looks like your daughter. Her eyes are also exactly like they should be. Grey, with a strike of green in the centre and turning light blue at the rim. I felt the intense wish to throw myself to the ground and worship her.
“But I didn't! I figured that it could've been dangerous to reveal her secret right then and there. She is definitely a direct descendant of the Mirai Dynasty. And if she isn't your granddaughter, then she must be some sort of illegitimate child of someone who is one of your direct successors. The urge to serve was so strong that I only kept standing because I reminded myself that you are the current sovereign.”
I reach for my chest and try to stop my rapidly beating heart. It's so bothersome to be a living person. Could Nova really be alive? Or is it an illegitimate child? No, that shouldn't be possible. To command the dead Mirai, one must be in a first or second degree of relationship to the sovereign. That's me, my daughter and her brother. My husband is already dead.
My daughter is accounted for and she never got a second child.
My son is happily married. He would never whore around and even if he did, my spies always have a close eye on such things. It wouldn't do to have an unknown member of the dynasty who is able to control the dead. That only leaves my lost grandchild. But how can this Joyce be my granddaughter? I suppose that there are some spells which could control a slave, or switch bodies. “Can you follow her?”
“Ahem, that could be problematic. She is living on Illum.”
I don't take no for an answer. “Get close to her. Protect her and find out why she isn't a vegetable. Get me information on what's going on. How much does she know of her past? Get onto Illum, even if you have to scrub the floor to do so. I'll come as soon as I can.”
I cut the connection and throw the communication crystal towards one of the staff members. He'll bring it back to where it belongs.
A look at our situation tells me that nothing much has changed. A gesture gains me the attention of my command staff. “Prepare the fleet for battle. I want us to be ready for maximum manoeuvrability!”
The captain nods and starts giving orders, while my general looks surprised. “I thought we would only engage once we are sure that the emperor's offspring leads the enemy.”
I nod. “That's true, but things have changed. We won't let go of the chance to fight this battle. If we destroy those ships now, it will take the Empire years to recover. Their presence in the northern oceans will be severely weakened unless they decide to reinforce their position. That's unlikely to happen since they have problems with the Alliance.”
“We are ready,” the captain informs us. “Your orders?”
I allow myself a feral grin. “Turn the whole fleet around. I want maximum acceleration until we are directly above the enemy.”
The general bites his lower lip. He is an old draugr. One of his eyes is completely pale and there is a hole in his left cheek. His creator clearly made him before our people learned how to regenerate a dead body. I wonder why the general doesn't allow someone to make him look less like a corpse. The captain is a perfect example that the undead don't have to look repugnant.
“I suppose that we can pass over them and drop a few bombardment spells. It depends on how fast they react, but they've been following us for days. Maybe their command staff is sleeping and we can catch them off guard. Though it's unlikely that we can break their shields from this distance. Their ships are strong.”
I shake my head. “We won't bombard them. You are right that their ships are individually stronger than ours. In a traditional shoot-out, we will pay a heavy price for engaging them. But we have more ships and more people. More importantly, they will wet themselves as soon as we board them.”
“Board them?” the captain asks.
“I am sure that those ships represent the finest which the empire has to offer. At least in the northern hemisphere. They are strong and large, but that also makes them slow and less manoeuvrable than our ships. I bet that none of their captains ever tried to switch off their levitation magic in mid-flight. They surely aren’t ready for it.
“We’ll do so and drop the five kilometres until we are right between them. We’ll reactivate the levitation magic and cast anti-barrier fields. Once we are close enough, they can’t use large spells without harming themselves. It’ll be a dangerous manoeuvre, but our new ships are over-engineered enough to take the stress. Together with our support vessels, we outnumber them three to one. We’ll swarm them.”
The smiles of the two undead in front of me widen at the thought of shedding our enemy’s blood.
Turning around and reaching a position directly above the enemy took less than a minute since they were also coming towards us. It’s reasonable to assume that a sufficiently bored observer might need a few seconds to realize our change in trajectory. Then it takes a few precious moments to get the message to the commanding officer, who in turn needs a few seconds to make sense of the situation. By the time he starts giving orders, it’s already too late.
The operation proceeds smoothly until it is time to disengage the force magic which is holding our ships afloat. Their grave mistake was to follow us below our plane. Gravity is still the strongest force in this world and it allows us to drop onto them like hawks.
I hold onto the balustrade and my feet lift off the ground as the Zenith starts falling, right into the centre of the enemy fleet. The wind makes it hard to breathe, but I cast a barrier to solve that issue. I hold on for dear life and watch the engagement unfold. There are a few flashes of light as large spells are cast, but there are far too few of them. We took the imperial forces completely off guard. Maybe they already congratulated themselves for chasing us away from their shore.
One of our troop carriers crashes into an enemy battleship and both ships break apart in a shower of splinters and debris. I watch in dismay as the aft section of the imperial ship stays in the air, though I guess that they won’t join the battle in their state. Despite the horrific collision some of our men managed to board the ship.
We are now right among the enemy fleet. The Zenith shreds one of the smaller, imperial vessels as we crash right into it. Our men immediately flood onto the enemy ship. They are out for blood and they will use everything, including teeth and nails, to get it.
I smile and hurl myself over the balustrade as I notice an imperial vessel pass beneath us. Guiding my fall with force magic, I land directly between the command staff of the ship. The empire’s colourful uniforms make it really easy to identify their commander. My rapier leaves its sheath and passes smoothly through the throat of the commanding officer. The unholy green glow which is surrounding the weapon connects to the man’s wound and feeds me with his power and his soul.
Evading the sword of a crewman, I strike out and punch my hand right into the chest of another opponent. Dancing to the side, I use the dead man as a shield against the incoming spells and push my mana into the dead body, animating nerves and supplying them with a different form of energy.
I pull out my hand and protect myself with a barrier. Their spells fizzle out of existence like nothing. I laugh and cast a bone spear right into a man’s chest. That’s when they realize that they are nothing more than prey. A few decide to flee. One even chooses to jump overboard, sealing his own fate. I guess it’s better than becoming an unwilling undead.
The men who I killed rise again. They are of the mindless variety and easily defeated. I didn’t have the time to return them properly.
It’s still enough to freak the others out. They flee their own bridge in a mad panic. I laugh and step to the ship’s helm, taking control. In the chaos of the battle, it isn’t hard to find another imperial ship. I spin the wheel and howl as my conquered vessel sets onto a collision course.
Minx jumps onto the helm and looks at me accusingly.
“Go away, I am busy. Today, there are many enemies to convert to our cause.”
I break off the helm and cast a levitation spell to abandon the ship. I feel myself becoming stronger with every death around me, a unique trait of Mirai necromancy. The two colliding imperial ships are of no concern to me as I search for the next target.