“Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, of physical weakness in the old.”
***The Eternal Battlefield***
***Jules, the Seventh Emperor***
“It looks like they are holding their position,” Marigold observes, smirking at the sight of the new arrivals. His raised lips reveal a set of unnaturally pointed canines which betray the heritage of his ancestors. “Are they staying intentionally out of reach?”
I hum, trying to make sense of the situation. “Shouldn't they be charging right in if they want the pyramid?”
Fin's spy gives us the answer. “That would be surely the case if the necropolis was on their side. If I were in their position, I would force us into a battle at two fronts right away. But...” He bites his lower lip, thinking. “If the pyramid isn't on their side, then it would be better to wait until our forces are tightly engaged with the necropolis. It would be much easier to sweep in to achieve their objective, whatever it is.”
“Isn't it obvious!? They want our destruction,” Sirra complains, her voice shivering. It's hard to tell if it's caused by fear or rage. I don't pay it any heed. The woman was always a little unhinged. It's a problem which most reincarnated have to struggle with.
I draw in a deep breath and let it out. Once I am done with the Alliance and the Mirai, I will set my sights on the Sociocrathy. Sirra is a maniac who suffers from a serious persecution complex. Sooner or later, she will start something with the Empire if I don't do it first. Turning my attention to Rufus, I look over his shoulder. “How long?”
“Just a minute,” he comments.
“That minute will cost us dearly.” Fin's spy points towards the pyramid, where our forces are engaging the necropolis.
Just as I look up, the pyramid shoots another lance of green light from its tip, slicing apart another ship. This time it's one of mine, a huge destroyer. There must be a tremendous amount of power behind this attack. At least it doesn't last for long and needs a certain amount of time to recharge. There are so many ships in the vicinity that it would take the pyramid hours to take down all of them.
It's like shooting sparrows with a cannon.
The wyverns are now swarming around some of our ships. Our forces are fighting back with all they have, causing a blinding storm of magic and spells. The wyverns aren't especially fast, but they are magical beasts and highly resistant to magic. It seems like they didn't lose that nasty trait when they were resurrected as undead minions.
One Alliance ship is literally torn apart. It advanced too fast, losing the covering fire of its neighbouring ships.
On the ground, the chimera runs rampant unchecked, sowing death among the infantry. Only the Alliance and my own forces are represented with ground troops, so we are the ones who have to occupy the creature.
That thought is squashed when the chimera lifts its head towards the sky. The creature's throat bulges, and a moment later it spits a ball of green sludge at one of the Sociocrathy's battle platforms. It was hammering the monster with fireballs, blowing huge chunks of flesh out of it and gaining its ire.
The green slime engulfs the ship, sticking to it. A few moments later, the acidic properties of the slime become apparent, dissolving a large part of the structure. It must have gotten something vital, because a few seconds later the light of spells and protective magic around the platform vanishes. It falls like a stone, shattering to a thousand pieces on the rocky mountains below.
The battle only gains in intensity as all factions join in, adding to the chaos. There is no quick end in sight and each moment must cost hundreds their lives.
“This is madness,” Marigold mumbles. “I must compliment you guys for the ability to create situations of utter horror and destruction. That's why I prefer my hut in the mountains.”
“It's done!” Rufus calls out. He gets to his feet, cackling like a madman. “Everyone, step closer to me. Now we will end this. I hope that all of you remember the plan. Slay the necromancer, and take control of the necropolis. Then we will use it to take care of the Mirai.”
“Right you are!” I answer and gesture for my son to follow me. Wisen does as he was told without questioning me. His left cheek twitches, showing that his amulet forced him into action. I smirk. Maybe the amulet will teach him to follow my orders.
The others also step closer when Rufus activates the spell projector, aiming it at the pyramid. There is no visible effect, but the necropolis shudders as a whole, losing height.
“It works! The shielding barriers are down! With this device, we can negate most of the force field's effect.” Rufus adjusts the spell projector and a blue light envelops us, teleporting us right into the pyramid's centre of power. Ten people in total.
I gag when the putrid stench of death and decay enters my nose. It smells as if I stepped into a mass grave. The room is dark, but there is more than enough light to recognize that we are inside a large catacomb. On the far end of the room is an altar with a glowing power stone on top of it. No, not a power stone, it's a genuine power core!
Artemis and his aide materialize spears from the thin air. The leader of the Adventurer's Guild swings his weapon, beheading a nearby zombie. The creature was climbing out of one of the many coffins inside the room. “We will clear out the room!”
In front of the altar is a man in a black cloak. He whips around upon noticing us. “Guards!” His shrill voice echoes loud and long, returning from a long tunnel behind us. It's answered by a chorus of pained screams.
“Hold them off! I'll take over the pyramid,” Rufus commands and charges towards the figure in black.
Fin grabs his spy by the arm, turning them away from the power core. “We will hold the entrance.” They head towards a large corridor, the only clear entrance to the room. From the darkness, I can hear the howls of the undead.
Frowning, I wonder why Fin would take up such a task. I expected some sort of betrayal from the elf, so I was surprised when he volunteered for a part of the plan which would take him away from the controlling element of the pyramid.
Marigold joins him without a word, while Sirra follows Rufus to take care of the necromancer.
Still trying to figure out Fin's scheme, I look around to find other threats. When I am sure that there is nothing of interest, aside from a few empty coffins, I turn and follow the others towards the power core.
“No! This is mine! You can't have it!” The necromancer steps in front of his power core and raises a hand threateningly. “Begone!” He thrusts his hand at Sirra, but nothing happens. The man tries again, not realizing that Rufus is aiming the spell projector at him.
“This area is safe. The device can cancel out the force fields.” Rufus nods and makes some adjustments to his spell projector.
“Holy Father, hear my call and send me aid!” After performing a complicated set of gestures, the Holy Mother aims her left index finger at the man. A flash of pure power blasts the necromancer backwards, causing him to squeal.
But the man isn't done. He crawls back to his feet and snarls. Then he charges and throws himself at us like an animal.
“He is all yours.” Stepping sideways, I shove my son forwards.
The fool stumbles, but draws his battle-hammer from his belt. Wisen takes a stance, gripping the hammer with both hands like a baseball bat. Unmoving, he waits until the creature is just within reach. A moment before it's too late, he brings the hammer down in a sideways arc, crushing the necromancer's skull with a single strike.
Seemingly unimpressed by the ugly wound, the creature's scream takes on a higher pitch as it crushes into Wisen, throwing both of them to the ground. They wrestle with each other. Wisen doesn't let go of his hammer, which is still lodged inside the necromancer's head.
It seems like all humanity fled the man. Just before, he was talking, but now he is a snarling mess. Using all his power, my son keeps away the gnashing teeth of the creature. Sighing, I draw my own sword and bring it down, slicing the necromancer's head from his shoulders.
Even that was too much aid. Wisen should have been able to deal with this thing on his own. Especially when Rufus already disabled most of the necromancer's abilities.
The Consortium member is already at the power core, connecting the spell projector to it. The man is mumbling, producing several other devices from a set of tools on his belt. “Very interesting. She circumvented the control problem by dumping most of the generated power into containment fields. Not very effective, but certainly a good solution if I have to work with limited resources. The equations for these force fields are fascinating...”
I look back to see how Fin and Marigold are doing with their part of the job, but there seems to be no problem. I would be disappointed if two reincarnated can't hold a narrow corridor against a few undead.
Fin is holding the creatures off, while Marigold is working hard to seal the entrance by bringing down the ceiling. Two seconds later, they succeed and the entrance is blocked by several tons of rock and debris. When the rumbling of the collapse subsides, I become aware of the ensuing silence. Only the distant moans of the creatures on the other side of the cave-in remind me that there are still a lot of them outside this chamber.
“That was far too easy.” Artemis, the leader of the adventurers, weighs a heavy spear in his hands. He pulled the weapon from seemingly nowhere when the battle started. They were very effective at slaying the few lone zombies which crawled out of the coffins. Although he didn't do much, I don't blame him for it. He and his aide were holding back, waiting to assist in case of unexpected problems.
Fin, his spy, and Marigold return from their battle. They are covered in blood and gore. The elven king looks disgustedly at the adventurer. “Sure! Why don't you fight the rotting corpses the next time?”
Artemis eyes Fin with curiosity, taking in the mess, and wrinkles his nose. “Maybe next time.”
“I have it! There are a lot of traps embedded in this control system. I wouldn't dare to use it without a proxy.” Rufus adjusts the spell projector and a projection of the battle appears above him.
It seems like a large strike group of the Mirai closed in on us, engaging our troops who are still occupied with fighting the zombies.
I close my eyes for a moment, realizing that the battle dissolved into utter chaos. Some of the Alliance's forces and mine even started fighting each other. I gave my generals strict orders to adhere to the cease-fire with Fin until the necropolis is taken care of.
It seems like some of our soldiers have too much hatred for the other side to follow simple commands. Maybe that shouldn't surprise me. The war with the Alliance went on for too long, but it was a simple way to keep our populations in check.
“There it is! It looks different, but that must be Nova's flagship.” Rufus points at a sphere with several rotating rings circling around it. “Give me just a few seconds, then I can use the pyramid's main attack against her! It's a simple energy spell. I can use our secret weapon to enhance the attack with a negation effect. It will be as if Nova's ship doesn't have any shields!”
“Do it!” I order.
“Finally!” Sirra calls out.
Fin and Marigold nod, giving their agreement.
Someone claps three times, slowly and deliberately. “The mice finally unite against the cat.”
I look around, searching for the unknown voice. Then, the power core shimmers and projects the ghostly image of a beautiful woman into the room. Sitting next to her ankle is a white cat, looking content. The woman is in a black and white armour, which looks more like a formal wardrobe than a functional item. A shiver runs down my spine when I realize that she is almost a copy of Janice. The relationship is unmistakable.
“What's this!?” I look at Fin and then at Rufus.
Wisen points at the woman and shrieks, “That's her! That's the bitch, Nova!” He managed to get back to his feet after I helped him with the necromancer.
“It seems like she somehow connected to the core's communication system. Not surprising, since she seems to have a similar technology on Illum. There is nothing to worry about. I am sure that she has no access to the pyramid's control functions. She never had. I checked!” Rufus shakes his head, then he snarls at the woman. “Finally, now you are showing your true colours!”
The projection tilts her head, pursing her beautiful lips. “I am just ensuring that my interests aren't meddled with. This pyramid is an old Mirai artefact. You have no right to it. The Sovereign and I will take it back.”
I look around, finally remembering the architecture. “She is right.” Though, I can't remember the Mirai ever having such a sophisticated force field technology. The inconsistency tickles the back of my mind, but I find no proper explanation for what's going on.
She slowly turns in a circle, looking at all of us. “Retreat and give me the pyramid. Then I might consider sparing you.”
I feel my face redden with rage. “Who do you think you are? You are just some newcomer! A child! You should be glad that we ignored you until now! Without Janice's protection-”
Sirra's expression also turns doubtful and she raises a hand to interrupt me. “Something is wrong. Why is she so sure of herself. Is this a trap?”
For the first time, I start considering the wisdom of this whole situation. Somehow, the most powerful people on this world ended up in a single place. “It's almost as if she wanted us here.”
Fin's mocking laughter blows away the spreading feeling of depredation. “She is just playing with you! If this pyramid is indeed a trap, then why didn't it activate already? She could have sprung it the moment we entered this place. That woman is just trying to bluff you. Only an utter maniac would risk others getting a tool like this one.”
Nova sighs. “So that's your decision.”
“You can't fool me! That's for my granddaughter.” Rufus flips a switch on his spell projector. The tactical overlay connects the pyramid and the sphere with a white line and marks the target with a red cross.
One moment later, the green lance of energy burns through an unlucky Mirai destroyer and stabs into the strange sphere.