“Whenever you find yourself stuck, open just one eye to new possibilities. It may be enough to go forward.”
I doggedly follow Fin onto the Pariah's bridge, our fleet's flagship. With over a kilometre in length, the Pariah is one of the biggest ships which were ever built in this world. Or grown, in the Pariah's case. It took eleven power stones and over a hundred nature mages to coax a forest of living trees into the desired shape, a slim longboat with huge leaves as sails.
Not that we need the leaves for actual flying. Wind alone would never be enough to steer such a behemoth through the sky. The leaves are the ship's spell projectors, strong enough to channel the energy of all eleven power stones.
The Pariah never saw actual combat, but I was present when the crew test-fired the spell projectors with a simple arcane missile. It resulted in destruction on a massive scale, obliterating several forests in the blink of an eye.
And that was just a simple spell. I haven't even seen what the new spell does. Rufus gave it to us, and according to him, it's aimed at destroying barriers such as the ones on Illum. The Sociocrathy and the Consortium lost their engagement with the flying island, but they proved that Illum isn't as untouchable as it might seem.
When we enter the bridge. I quickly look around, searching for threats. But there are none. Only the king's advisers and the bridge crew are present, and I personally cleared those as loyal subjects. The military advisers are loyal without a doubt, so I focus my attention on the faces of the officers and lower personnel.
Only after I am sure that there are no unknown faces, I relax a little. The king might be involved in a sketchy conspiracy, but I am still his spy-master. As long as I don't have proof that he is plotting against all of elven-kind, I have no grounds to legally remove him from his position.
“What's wrong, Alias? You look like you suspect us to be attacked by assassins at any moment.”
The king's annoyed voice forces me to pay him my full attention, but he only glances at me sideways. Most of his attention is occupied by the large map in the middle of the room. It shows the whole continent with incredible detail.
“I am sorry, my king, but you seem to forget that we are in a war zone!” And he made a secret pact with people who aren't trustworthy. Does he really expect me to feel safe? So much can go wrong. But then again, I didn't exactly tell him that I spied on him. If I confront him on the matter, I will also have to reveal that I am spying on him. He won't be pleased about such a revelation.
Fin snorts and turns his full attention to the large map in the middle of the room. He gestures for his advisers and requests a report on the situation. Then he listens, taking in what his head advisor has to say.
I don't join him. Not yet. I am far more concerned with the reasons for Fin's actions, thinking furiously. The plan which he proposed to the other 'reincarnated' sounded perfect, if it wasn't for a little detail. Fiora's research notes were gifted to the Great Library at the same time as Nova, or Joyce, appeared on the scene.
Fin somehow failed to mention that little detail to the other conspirators. He even checked with me afterwards, making certain that there are no hints at Nova's involvement.
He must know, and that's somehow the reason why he suddenly decided to command from the front lines. His concubine was there when the books were gifted to the library. She must've told him.
My lord is far from stupid, so it must be some sort of plan, fooling the others for our benefit. I am used to political intrigue, but Fin is playing this game on a level which even I am uncomfortable with. If his plan fails and the others realize that Fin held back information, they might turn on us.
My eye-patch itches, so I use my palm to rub at the leather. Damn Nova and her cursed weapons! The curse is gone, but the whole area remains a mass of scarred flesh. The healers said that it will continue to itch for quite some time, a prophecy which I rather wouldn't want to see fulfilled.
Noticing that my thoughts are derailing, I try to concentrate, but it seems like my attention span is exhausted by the scar's unpleasantness.
I just have a bad feeling that I am overlooking some part of Nova's plan. At least Fin seems to respect her. Feeling tired, I turn my attention to the map and can't help myself, a sinking feeling befalls me.
The Eternal Battlefield and the zone beyond seem to be in utter chaos. Blue lines indicate a steady stream of reinforcements from all over the continent.
The Alliance's forces are stretched thin. We hold a far too wide front-line against the Empire. It's a vain attempt to solidify our claim on the conquered ground. It's surely the idea of a stupid politician who already anticipates the time when the peace negotiations are due.
They will point out that the area in question was tightly under our control for several months. Grabbing land based on such a claim isn't unheard of, though I don't think that the Empire will see it that way. That's the problem with such a logic. The Empire will never see it our way.
The Empire has its forces positioned around ours, hindering our troops. There is no further advancing at this point. The imperial forces aren't even trying to create something like a dug-in battlefront. Instead, their fighting commandos are concentrated in several camps and fortresses, ready to intercept any attempt to win more ground.
A sickening, green blob in the mountains above the Eternal Battlefield marks the approximate position of the strange pyramid. According to our reports, the pyramid is cutting into our support lines and lays waste to every village it comes across. That will eventually create problems with supplies, a logistic-officer's nightmare.
But according to Fin, it won't come to that. He even convinced the rest of the Alliance of his plan.
Maybe I should have never brought him the concubine or mentioned the research notes. Then we wouldn't be out here in the middle of a war. I am a spy, not a front-line scout! Though, the research papers would have found their way into Fin's hands sooner or later. I wasn't the one who dug up the papers, but some of my lower ranked colleagues. It was just my doubtful duty to bring them to the king's attention.
I sigh and concentrate on the other players who joined this game.
Following the incursion of the undead, are the forces of two more factions. A large contingent of the Sociocrathy's warships is holding respectful distance to the necropolis. If it's anything like Illum, then they may be able to take it down, but they will surely get a bloody nose in the attempt.
Close on their heels is a puny battle-group of eight orkish warships. I didn't even know that they had that many left. All they should have, are ground troops. Maybe they are captured prizes from the Sociocrathy?
Then again, isn't it strange that the Sociocrathy seems to ignore those ships? Maybe they just don't want to play cat and mouse with the orks. I am sure that the orks would try to avoid contact with the Sociocrathy's armada. They are a battle-hungry race, but they aren't suicidal.
Coming in from the north, are several warships from the Consortium, just as Rufus promised. When I listened in on Fin's meeting, I didn't understand much, but that part of the plan was clear enough.
I shake my head in disbelief. The war between the Alliance and the Empire doesn't seem to be enough. No, we have to involve three more factions in the mess. Four, if I count the necropolis as an independently acting force. It's still not certain that the pyramid isn't under Nova's control.
It could be that Nova just found an artefact similar to it. Please, let that be it. It would explain so much. The mere thought of this war going on any longer than it must, it sickens me.
Time passes slowly, and I watch with dread as the various forces perform their manoeuvres. From time to time, Fin gives an order, overruling or confirming his advisers' suggestions. Having seen enough, I retreat for the day in order to rest. It's clear that this whole operation needs time to come to fruition. Most of the troops are moving on foot. It's a slow and tedious process.
In fact, most of our soldiers will die because of sickness and the deadly fauna and flora. Less than half of them will fall in actual battle. That's the brutal nature of war in these lands. Before an army encounters the enemy, they have to fight a path through goblins and monsters. Only the heartlands of the respective nations are safe to travel.
Like it or not, I doubt that this war-zone will shift away from the borderlands anytime soon.
The same game repeats itself day after day, with Fin overseeing the war. Whenever one of our allies tries to step out of line, Fin simply pulls back our forces, leaving them to fend on their own. In other cases, he orders our troops to stand and fight until the last man. His game is a dreadful and cruel one. Without mercy, he orders our men into battle, like others would throw wood onto a fire. As the days go by, I start to think of Fin's map as a real game board. It's a cruel joke which he plays on us.
Yet, there is no real encounter between our troops and the enemy. No decisive clash of forces, like I heard it happen often in the early days of the war.
After the eighth day, I suddenly realize what's going on. The insight hits me like a sledgehammer. We are fighting a war, yet we are not. Fin and the others only want it to look like they are fighting each other. That's what I didn't understand when I listened to their plan. They agreed to fight shadows until the matter comes to fruition.
They meant to avoid decisive confrontation until their tools are ready. The troops are performing a complicated dance which is supposed to look like war. A dance which is performed for the sole reason of distracting Nova's agents!
I watch the map with concern, realizing that the core troops of all involved parties are slowly taking their positions around the strange pyramid.