“Get off, Seria! You are too old for that!” I grumble, slowly getting fed up with the looks we're getting from my subordinates. This is too much! I am becoming a laughing stock!
“I don't wanna! I have to enjoy every moment while I am still small enough to do it!” My daughter complains while holding onto me with all the force she can muster.
Seria is riding on my shoulders, using my horns as a driving wheel while her tail is wrapped tightly around my chest for additional support. Several crewmen are looking at us, trying their hardest not to laugh.
We boarded the command centre of the Ragnarok, one of our three flying fortresses, an hour ago. The other two ships were named Guardian and Nomad, but only the Nomad will join us on this trip, while the Guardian will stay behind to protect the homeworld.
“I still can't believe that Celes allowed you to join this campaign!” I grumble.
Seria fidgets on my shoulders. “Maybe I'll remember something important! And I have to greet Lada! I am sure that she is worried sick about me.”
I look at Celes, hoping to get some help, but my wife ignores my pleading eyes. When I try my luck with Nix, my eldest simply shrugs, showing no sign of sympathy. “Those who have them, have to endure,” she states without mercy.
I give up, sinking down into my command chair. Then I return my attention to the matter at hand. If I can't have Seria stay at home I will at least lock her up on the command bridge where it is the safest.
“You are really sure that Lada is on our side?” I still doubt it, so I want every affirmation I can get from my daughter. Friend or not, Lada is still a member of the Council.
“I am sure! The memory is a very recent one and she was always a good person and a friend,” Seria replies. “If there is any chance, we should try to get her out before the fighting starts.”
“Your word in my ear.” I turn my attention to the man who is in charge of the ship's engines. “Make sure that we have the correct interdimensional coordinates. Then contact Arthur and Nicosar on the Nomad and tell them to fire up their engines. Planned flight time: zero!” I grin as I give the order.
The first priority for designing the fortresses was to give them the ability to use the pathways. Normally, nothing aside from gods and everything that is protected within their aura should be able to withstand interdimensional travel. But Mana Crystal opens up new possibilities without which our ships would be useless and stuck to stay on this world.
I can feel the energy pulsing through the ship as it prepares to rip open a gateway between dimensions and galaxies to follow the pathways.
“I am still concerned about the Sphere of Sight. They will be able to know every step we take once we are outside the Void Zone,” Nix voices her doubts.
“You are completely right, although their advantage won't make much of a difference,” I repeat myself since we already talked about this earlier, but sometimes you can only lighten people's doubts by telling them the same thing again and again. “Thanks to Tjenemit, we know most of their capabilities. Just remember to keep your mouth shut about vital information while we are outside. Even if they do spy on us, it's no problem as long as we act quickly and decisively before they can use their advantage.”
Celes rolls her eyes while standing next to me with crossed arms. “Just admit that you are trying to strong-arm them by forcing an all-out engagement.”
I shrug. “There is nothing wrong with hitting your opponent in the face while he is trying to peek at your cards.”
“I am certain physically attacking an opponent would normally lose you the game,” Seria whispers, knowing my weak spot for card games.
I take a deep breath to clear my thoughts. “Back to topic! We will pay them a visit with most of our forces and assess their strength. If they are weaker than us, we will crush them, take the Crystal City, and rob them of the Sphere. If their fortifications are too strong, we will start hopping around the multiverse and stir up trouble while counting on the fact that the Void Zones will stay safe at least for a little while. Once we rally more deities against the Council their reign should end pretty soon.”
Finally, the big screen in front of us shows some change as both fortresses rise to a higher altitude.
“You realize that all of what is to come is your fault! Seria?” I chide my daughter.
“It was the former me who set this up. And if she hadn't, you all would suffer in a dark and cruel place. So you should be happy for the chance to change your fate!” Seria mumbles.
I tilt my head and study the scene on the screen before me. A little more distance between us and the planet is preferable. If we were to jump out of the atmosphere right above Midhold we would likely destroy our own city.
A downside to using the pathways with our fortresses is that they translocate themselves and the space around them instantaneously. Gods are able to use the pathways in a more refined manner, but the fortresses use a barbaric brute-force method of just exiting one reality to enter another one.
Imagine a volume of several million tons of air just disappearing, leaving behind a vacuum.
The fortresses are all identical. They don't look natural, but at the same time, the random observer can tell that they aren't pure technology either. Each is about six kilometres long, looking like two hexagonal pyramids which are connected at their base.
We are manned with a crew of about twenty-five thousand people, of which only a few hundred are for technical support. Aside from shields and weapons, the most important function of the fortresses is their dampening field.
When we realized that we would have to fight a war between gods, we were at a loss. How should almost indestructible beings with teleportation abilities fight each other?
Would any battle inevitably devolve into brainless chaos of one on one fights?
Margerie's invention saved us from such a fate with the dampening fields. They are derived from the same technology which enables us to use the pathways with the fortress.
Instead of using a pathway to get from one point to another, the dampening field draws the energy out of them, effectively closing them and turning a large area into a Void Zone.
If it weren’t for this invention we would have to fight the Council the traditional way, which would mean complete chaos.
For all that, I still don’t think that it will be an easy fight. To tell the truth, I think we are all greenhorns regarding divine warfare. We never fought a true war between gods aside from duels and engagements between small numbers of deities.
But I have a feeling that we will find out soon enough how reality looks like.
The only ones who are old enough to have fought in the ancient wars are the Council and their followers. They have an experienced army, unlike us. Of course, our people aren't inexperienced either, but we are entering new territory. I hope the Council's army got at least a little rusty during the eternity of peace under the Council’s rule.
“We are ready to shift, your Majesty!” a technician's voice wakes me from my thoughts.
“Activate the engines,” I order with a cold voice.
After a short feeling of zero gravity, both of our fortresses reappear above a certain planet, often called the ‘Centre of all Things’, referring to the huge density of pathways in this region of space. Some are assuming that all pathways originated from here, explaining the name.
A blue sun is dancing eternal rounds with a black hole and around them travels the Crystal World upon which the Crystal City is located. The process which turned an entire world into Mana Crystals is still a mystery, even to me.
And we appeared right above their heads. Perfect!
“Begin to descend and start the bombardment to wake them up.” I lean back in my chair to enjoy the coming inferno.
On my command, our fortresses start unleashing their incredible power.
Red lances of pure energy stab down into the atmosphere and orbs of light howl down to the planet’s surface, displacing clouds with each detonation.
It’s an impressive display, but unfortunately, it is nothing more than a greeting to those below.
We are ringing the bell, in a manner of speaking.
We learned from Tjenemit that the Crystal City possesses an incredibly powerful shield. If he wasn’t exaggerating, it should be more than enough to stop our attacks.
As our ships descend through a layer of clouds, I get a nice aerial view of the Council's city. It's my first time seeing it like this, thanks to the Council’s ban on flying while I resided there. The Crystal City is indeed marvellous to behold.
Smaller towers of crystal intertwine with each other, each one a sculpture of its own. Thanks to an almost indestructible material, the architect of this place paid no heed to things like structural integrity. In the city’s centre, several towers rise above the others, with a single, slim crystal tower at their centre.
Just as I assumed, our weapons aren't doing anything to their shield. We are lighting up their sky. That's all.
***The Crystal City***
“Where did those things come from!?” El Shaddai screams with all his might.
Another one of the larger energy spheres impacts the city’s barrier and the ground shakes under our feet, which worries me slightly. Frowning, I survey the city, paying close attention to the nearby buildings. For all I know, the Crystal City stood here forever and will stay here forever more.
But never in my long memory did anyone cause enough abuse to the city’s barrier to make the ground tremble. What if the old systems decide to fail at an inopportune moment?
As much as Amaru likes to pretend to be the most knowledgeable person regarding Crystal Tech, he wouldn’t be able to repair anything without the knowledge of how to manipulate Mana Crystal.
I look up at the two beautiful ships which are clearly made out of Mana Crystals, just like our city. If it weren't for the shaking ground under my feet, I wouldn't believe that their purpose is a deadly one.
Seria and her people are making a statement.
What has she unleashed?
“Marvellous! They copied the Crystal Tech! They are even able to build ships!” Amaru's eyes sparkle and he raises his hands towards the ships, like praying to a new god.
Elohim slaps him on the back of his head. “Restrain yourself. We are in public.” He takes a wary look at the siege weapons. “I am sure they just found those things somewhere and learned how to fly them.”
“At this rate, they will never get through the shield.” Enyo tilts her head. “They are stupid to build something like this. Send the infiltration troops. We will take their toys away from them easily enough.”
A General at Enyo's side nods and starts giving orders to nearby soldiers.
I look down to my feet, knowing that I would have to decide soon...
Suddenly, a rather big explosion dents the barrier above us, but it instantly regenerates thanks to the city’s almost limitless mana reserves.
In fact, Amaru explained to me that the city is somehow able to tap into the mana-flow of the planet itself, which is in turn somehow connected to the pathway network. That's an immense power to draw upon.
I close my eyes, trying to decide whether I should go and try to sabotage one of the power cores which are responsible for drawing on the planet’s power. It would be a valiant effort, but most likely fruitless. I don’t even know where to begin. If creating and shaping Mana Crystal is already a mystery, damaging the stuff is equally difficult.
And all of the city’s original technology uses it.
A few minutes go by while the visitors keep testing the city’s defences, then Enyo's general receives new information. He turns to his leader, pulling down the corners of his mouth. “We lost the infiltration troops.”
“What? How?” Amaru turns on the man, looking intrigued.
“Apparently, all pathways outside the city are blocked – like in a Void Zone. Our troopers tried to get to the ships by using a teleportation array, but they reappeared a few kilometres away from the ships instead of inside them. They were immediately taken under fire and only a handful managed to escape.”
“Incompetence!” Enyo screams at the general. “Why didn’t you consult with me before attacking like idiots!?”
The man pales and starts stuttering. “B- b- but… they are just rebels.”
At this moment, the bombardment stops and a loud voice booms over the city.
“We are the Void… no, actually that sounds stupid. Don’t we have a better name for ourselves? Guys, help me out here, it’s unbelievable that we thought of everything beforehand, but didn’t come up with a good name for our faction!”
I frown, straining my ears to understand the sounds of a quick, muffled discussion before the voice resumes.
“Ahem! We are the Chimerans! I say it still sounds stupid, but I was outvoted! Let history know that this wasn’t my idea… Yes, yes, I am getting to the point, don’t interrupt my narrative, damned woman!”
There is another strange sound and muffled voices again.
I bite my lower lip and frown while looking up to the ships. What by the multiverse are they doing?
“Ahem! Where was I? Ah, yes! Put down your weapons and come out of your city to hear our terms for your surrender. If you don't resist, this won't have to end with your permanent termination... no, dear! It's not like I want to scare them, just stating facts. No! …What do you mean? The whole point of coming here was to threaten them! I am trying to make an impression here! No! You can't have the micro… schrrccrrrcrrrr”
I and the others look at each other. But just like myself, the rest of the Council is also at their wits' end as we listen to the sounds of something that can only be two people fighting over some speaker system.
That is until the fight ends with a loud yelp, apparently from the first voice, and a female voice replacing the former male one with a commanding tone that allows no ‘buts’.
“Meet us five thousand meters above your city for negotiations. Now!”
Looking at El Shaddai, I find him taking on all kinds of shades of grey and silver in his rage. “Is this is a joke or some kind of entertainment show? Are they not taking us seriously!? And they are giving us terms? Us!?”
Amaru raises a finger, his earlier euphoria a little dampened by what just happened. “We should go and speak to them, and find out who the mastermind behind those two idiots is.”
“All of us will go.” El Shaddai spits on the ground. “We will show them what happens if they don't surrender now!”
Using a pathway, he and the others blink away and I follow after a moment of searching the airspace above the city for them.
Upon using the pathways, I immediately notice that something is off. Even inside the city’s barrier, it feels slow, like moving through neck-high quicksand compared to the paved road I am used to.
I reappear in the air close to the city’s barrier. Amaru and Enyo are already at El Shaddai’s side. Elohim and Eris are more careful, hovering a little further behind thanks to levitation magic.
Across from us are five people… and a child?
The three men look like demons, but I can tell right away that they don’t originate from the Infernal Planes. The denizens of those dimensions are further removed from what would be considered a standard humanoid shape. One of the women and the girl riding on the leader’s shoulders are the same, although the third female is definitely a full-blooded succubus.
I frown, not remembering ever seeing their particular archetype of race. Are their bodies from hybrid stock?
The leader has a staff made out of Mana Crystal in his left hand. His menacing slit pupils make me feel like they are looking right through the flesh of our bodies at our souls.
Then I remember that look. This must be Ascathon’s reincarnation, the soul mage.
I haven’t met him often, but in the multiverse, it’s best to remember those with power.
Even among the gods and ethereal beings, there is a wide range of power-rankings. Demons and Immortals are widely seen as the weakest of beings. Just a smidgen above them are the lesser deities and some ancient creatures which roam the multiverse. Then there are the mid-level deities and finally, above them all, the true gods. Those whose divinity roots in some primordial truth of the multiverse.
There are very few of them, and the Council always kept a close eye on those true gods. Most were dealt with as quickly as possible before they could become a threat. Others were held at an arms length, while some were deployed in our service, like Myrm, Ascathon, or Seria.
The leader is wearing a strange armour which makes him look like a mixture between a knight and mage. An intriguing ornament is decorating the horns on his head like a crown, the short black hair emphasizing the golden metal. The two black horns are slightly curved and running backwards from his temples to complete the look of a devil!
The woman next to him has fiery red hair, which is pinned up with several ornamented hairpins made out of crystal. She looks like a succubus, her alluring figure drawing the attention of the men in our group. Just the wings are missing. She is wearing a female version of the guy’s outfit. A slit skirt shows one of her legs and a tail slowly waves from left to right behind her. Unlike the man’s the horns on her head are branching out, encircling it like a tiara.
But the strangest thing is the little girl who is riding on the guy’s shoulders. She looks like a little version of the woman.
And then the girl waves at us and speaks, “Hi Guys! Did you like our little greeting? Lada! Long time no see! How are you doing!?”