“Some things can't be bought.”
I growl, hating my inability to change the course of events. All I could do, was to watch as the events unfolded and led us to this point. In my function as the king's spymaster, I should have been able to give my king other options than to enter a war, but I failed. Many of our people will perish in what's to come.
Keeping my mouth shut, I follow Fin to the teleportation room on our flagship. “I hope that you know what you are doing, my king. Teleporting onto an imperial ship seems like the perfect way to get yourself taken prisoner. I can’t support your decision to act so rashly.”
I already know about Fin's deal, but I have to pretend that I don't know anything about his affiliations. Otherwise, he might realize that I was spying on him. Nonetheless, for some unknown reason Fin decided to take me with him to this ominous meeting.
The king shakes his head. “Don't worry. This won't go wrong. Even if the Emperor tries something, the others won't allow him to live another day if he breaks the agreement. Don't forget that these undead have to be dealt with. All parties agreed to put the hostilities aside until the pyramid is neutralized. Can’t have a good war if a third party keeps butting in. Can we?”
“And what happens after the undead are no longer a threat?” I ask. “Will we draw daggers on each other and start stabbing? My blunt words are disrespectful towards my king, but they have to be said.”
Fin laughs. “That's exactly why I am keeping you around, Alias. You aren't nearly as much afraid of me as most of the other grovellers. Yes, the 'afterwards' is what we should be worried about.” He reaches into his pocket and retrieves a small amulet from it. “Take this. It's a safety precaution. The amulet has a teleportation spell embedded inside it. If you break the seal, you will be transported back to our flagship's bridge.”
I take the precious item gingerly and put it around my neck. Artefacts like this one are almost priceless. There aren't many enchanters who can embed something large and complex like a teleportation spell inside a small piece of jewellery. It must mean that Fin earnestly values my services. “Thank you, my king.”
“Don't thank me. I am only taking you with me because I trust nobody else not to backstab me. And I need someone trustworthy to cover my back. That's all.” He makes a dismissive gesture and enters the teleportation room. “Is everything set up?”
I follow and notice an old mage getting back to his feet. He was checking the teleportation circle on the floor for possible mistakes. “The circle is adjusted to the new location. You just have to activate it.” He bows and hurries out of the room.
Fin checks the runes to make sure. After a few seconds he nods, then he steps onto the teleportation platform and gestures for me to follow.
Doing as ordered, I spare the runes not a single glance. As skilled and knowledgeable as I may be, I don't dare to touch anything that's related to spacial magic. Magicians need a specialized education to work with portals, teleportation, or barriers. I may know a thing or two about the latter, but I can't decipher a teleportation spell even if my life depended on it.
A short flash of light and a sudden jolt is enough. We find ourselves beneath open sky on something like an observation platform. Surveying our surroundings, I notice several other parties.
In the distance, I can see the pyramid and its forces, surrounded by the airships and armies of various nations. There are the battle platforms of the Sociocrathy, the huge metal behemoths of the Consortium, and finally the rather traditional airships of the Alliance and the Empire. As of yet, nobody has made a move, but it can’t be much longer until the dying starts.
Another flash of light next to us signals the arrival of an additional member of this elusive group which Fin seems to be a part of. No, that's not entirely correct. As I found out, they are clearly not a group, but rather a gathering of people who found themselves facing a common enemy. And to my understanding, each group has a different reason.
The Sociocrathy can’t accept another religion within their sphere of influence. All their power is based on their unerring theology.
The Consortium clearly has economical motives.
The Empire turned the Mirai into an eternal enemy when they abducted a princess, a member of the necromantic bloodline.
The Alliance has the least reason for joining in on this operation, but even we can’t accept the interference of this pyramid.
In short order, everyone arrives and I find my king and myself staring at five other parties. Luckily, it seems like the Emperor cleared the area of all of his minions, except for his son. Otherwise, this meeting would have even more potential for diplomatic chaos than it already has.
There is, Sirra, the Holy Mother of the Sociocrathy, together with someone who I don't know. Her follower looks like nothing more than a normal clerk.
Rufus is already a well-known factor, so I am not surprised about his presence.
What takes me off-guard, is the arrival of Artemis, the Leader of the Adventurer's Guild. There are some adventurers who are fighting for one or the other side in this war, but they act as contracted mercenaries. The guild itself should be completely neutral. Their interest in this affair doesn't bode well for the future.
Lastly, there is someone who I don't recognize. To my knowledge, he isn't part of a political faction or a powerful group. The large, muscular man looks like he is bored and not really interested in being here. His expression belongs to a man who was forced into an unwanted job. I notice a slightly greenish tint to his skin, but otherwise, his features are completely human. His fine clothes and his stance also indicate nothing of the orkish blood which presumably runs through his veins. A half-blood?
His presence, as well as his origins, are a total mystery to me. The Alliance is a conglomerate of races and cultures, but the various factions stay separated. Offspring of mixed blood is tolerated but frowned upon. If there was any half-blood of decent political power I should know about it. This man is standing right next to the leaders of nations, looking like he just wandered into a bad neighbourhood.
Rufus draws my attention by stepping forward. He is holding a rather strange device in his arms. It looks like a metal barrel with handlebars. It’s open at the sides, and the insides of the strange device are an impossibly complicated arrangement of gears, which are inscribed with runes. I have heard and read about the principal layout of a spell-projector, and this looks very much like the core-element of one.
The gears allow the device to arrange runes automatically in almost any configuration, allowing the operator to cast any spell through an external power source.
“If we may begin? It seems like our troops are in the process of engaging the enemy.” Rufus turns to look at the pyramid, on which we have a grand view. I realize that this platform must be on top of the imperial flagship.
As if Rufus's words were a command, the ominous cloud of wyverns surges upwards to engage our forces. They fan out, splitting into several groups. The huge chimera takes a step forward, poisoning the ground around it with its breath.
I clench my teeth when I notice that most of our armies are marching towards the monster. I don't see any value in engaging that thing with simple infantry, but then I notice the moving bodies around the creature's house-sized legs. Undead, and there must be thousands of them. They are dropping from the pyramid like ripe fruits and more are rising from the ground.
Sirra steps forward in slow measured steps, clearly not bothered by the fact that her time-consuming demeanour may cost hundreds of good soldiers their lives. If this weapon can easily take out the pyramid, shouldn't every person here be eager to assemble this device.
“I want it back, once this is over.” She hands Rufus a blue crystal. The material looks like it's a mana crystal, but that's impossible. To my knowledge, there aren't any of such size.
The Consortium's representative nods and kneels down, placing the barrel on the ground. He disassembles the complicated machinery and starts fiddling with its innards in a professional manner. The crystal wanders into a prepared slot, seemingly intended to power the device.
Fin pulls a sheet of paper from his pocket. “This is the proper rune-sequence for the negation spell.”
The Emperor snorts and reveals a small capsule. “It feels like we are assembling a puzzle of extremely rare ingredients. I doubt that any single nation would be able to provide the ingredients for such a device.”
Rufus accepts the capsule from the Emperor, treating it like a dangerous snake. “That's certainly the case. I suspect that our mutual enemy didn't anticipate us being able to gather all the necessary ingredients.”
“A magical catalyst, just as we agreed.” The leader of the adventurer's guild steps forward, providing yet another piece of the puzzle, a shimmering pearl. It's the core of a magical beast of immense power. Once in a century, strong magical beasts appear in the wild, uninhabited lands of this world. They are born from large amounts of wild magic, just as weak concentrations cause the emergence of lesser pests like monsters or mutated beasts. If found, large numbers of strong adventurers gather to slay the beast, almost always paying a high price for their greed. The results of such hunts are greedily hoarded by the guild, as cores are key elements for many large-scale rituals.
The half-orc furrows his eyebrows and crosses his arms in front of his chest, indicating that he is just here to observe the spectacle.
“I will finally be able to strike back.” Rufus chuckles as he assembles the last components. Then he adjusts the gears, following the instructions on Fin's sheet of paper.
I force my eyes away from the process, realizing that I was so occupied with what was going on that I didn't pay any attention to the pyramid.
Our forces closed in on the pyramid and are almost within firing range. The flock of resurrected wyverns swarms out, trying to reach the closest airships. I wince, realizing that Rufus won't be done before our forces clash.
That's when a green light emerges from the pyramid's tip. At first, it's just a ball of blinding energy, but then a thin finger of power shoots out of it, obliterating one of the Sociocrathy's floating battle platforms by cutting straight through it!
“Ouch.” The half-blood smiles. “Seems like you have a tough fight ahead of you.”
“Shut up, Marigold!” The Emperor grinds his teeth. “This thing is dangerous, even for you.”
Marigold shrugs. “I haven’t seen anything impressive.” He tilts his head and looks upwards, against the blinding sunlight. “Say, do those ships belong to you? They are so black and spiky, isn’t that Janice’s style.”
Casting a sight enhancing spell, I suck in a sharp breath when I follow the half-blood’s line of sight. “Mirai! Hundreds! That must be most of their fleet!” The sky above us is filled with the black fleet of the Mirai.
Fin shakes his head. “Impossible! They don’t have that many warships. Look at the hulls. Most of those must be old designs, used to patrol the area around their island.”
I swallow, and Sirra voices what goes through my mind.
“Repurposed troop transports. They were building their forces for decades. They must have countless of their unholy ilk on those ships.” The Holy Mother performs a gesture of prayer, wishing for her god’s help.