Chapter One

Should Have Checked Her Mate

A distant explosion shook the conference room floor.

Empress Rinyaka III stood at the head of a long table, sporting a frilled dress that would look more fitting in a ballroom. Despite its calm choice of color, a serene light blue over a frilly layer of light pink, her pale face wore a wide remorseless grin. Running her fingers through her shoulder-length blonde hair, she threw a cold stare at those seated around her.

"Gentlemen… and ladies." She motioned to her right, to a young woman, one of four. "I assure you we will meet again. Unless you yourself break that promise. Yes, we are surrounded. They are breaking deeper into Eiserneholle even as we speak. But I did not choose you all if I thought that a mere Confederation crackdown would be enough to capture even a single one of you. I assure you, gentlemen," she leant forward, gripping the edge of the table, and repeated, "that we will meet again. If our number is reduced this time, it only means that our top rank here is rid of worthless weaklings."

Her eyes scanned the faces of her top officers, the Eisernehande, faces scarred by experience, with eyes that had seen what would have broken many others. Ten magicians of vast combat powers, skill and experience, feared in all the hundreds of worlds of the Confederation.

"Now show them true horror!" she proclaimed, raising her hands, and the Eisernehande cheered. The empress swiftly turned and headed towards the double door, the lady on her right escorting her. The double doors parted, revealing a long, dimly-lit corridor.

The Eisernehande left their seats and marched behind her, and reaching a crossroads, parted ways.

"Remember, split up and move in pairs as we had instructed!" said the brunette lady by Rinyaka's side with a high-pitched voice.

"Well, well, aren't you overly cautious, Hazenbach?" Rinyaka teased. "Don't worry, they'll return with a story to tell."

"If it's a story with a pleasant ending, Lady Rinyaka," the brunette Hazenbach responded with a gentle smile.

"We only had three consecutive defeats, and the Confederation think that they can capture us." Rinyaka shrugged. "Such overconfidence."

"If they win, nobody will consider it overconfidence, Lady Rinyaka," Lady Hazenbach replied with a curtsy.

Her commander chuckled. "Never mind, looks like it was a mistake to set out on an offense on World Karakh. We exhausted a lot of our supplies while conquering World Angrim. We should've taken some time to gather our strengths before launching the attack. Overconfidence on my part indeed."

Screams of men reached their ears.

Rinyaka chuckled. "Looks like they found something."

The duo continued, and it was not long before the way ahead was blocked by troops with anti-magic force fields. Rinyaka, sensing the spell and noticing the shimmering effect in the air surrounding them, clicked her tongue in annoyance.

They opened fire. Bullets of black crystal rained upon the two.

But she had been in wars long enough to anticipate them. If they use those force fields, they're anticipating a fight with powerful magi. So always assume that they'll be using Magicide bullets that magic couldn't block.

With just a flick of her finger, bricks popped out of their places in the wall like a swarm of bees and shot towards the advancing troops in a barrage thick enough to let none of the Magicide projectiles through. Bricks, solid matter and not magic, smashed through their force fields by brute strength.

Meanwhile, her lady companion ripped out a thick metal pipe buried along the wall by sheer magical force. It lashed at them like a serpent in a violent dance.

Being thorough, Rinyaka summoned the hundreds of screws and nails from the pipe's joints, sending them forward as projectiles with deadly precision. She smiled with amusement. The bricks she used earlier had two pairs of holes through them, providing just the place for the screws to shoot through with devastating impact.

Men yelled in pain and horror as pointed metal ravaged through skin, muscle and bone.

"Just the courtyard, Lady Rinyaka, and then we'll reach the gate! Outside the gate we'll be able to teleport!"

The empress nodded. The building was one of many that didn't allow teleportation magic to work, preventing unwanted people from simply crashing in without consent.

Lady Hazenbach closed her eyes and held out a hand to the air, the ring on her right hand flickering, "All targets crippled and unable to fight," she declared. "Oh, except that one. Hit, but faking death, waiting to ambush."

Rinyaka chuckled. "Boy, you hear that? No use faking it," she said with a sweetened voice. "I'll let you run if—"

The trooper stood and aimed his gun in a split second. But the empress just tilted her head, and the nail embedded in his shin exploded like glass at melting point, in his muscles. He howled like he never did before and his shot struck the stone floor.

The two glided over the pile of bodies, serene figures in flowing dresses. The corridor ended at a huge courtyard.

Each of them bigger than the typical house, five fully-armed Arachcrafts, tank-like vehicles with eight mechanical limbs awaited, clacking their hooked front claws.

As if surprised at seeing their appearance out of the tunnel, the five hastily aimed their cannons and and set them on Magicide projectiles. A voice shouted from the lead Arachcraft, "Don't move or we'll—"

The ground exploded in front of them.

Pipes. Every single pipe buried underneath them, even the meters-thick sewer, burst out of the ground, raining debris and boulder-sized chunks all around, raising a cloud of dust that blocked the view. The sudden unearthing threw the Arachcrafts into imbalance.

64-mm caliber Magicide shots crackled and ricocheted, quite a few of them hitting fellow Arachrafts with no little damage.

The two were now fifteen feet under the ground, controlling the chaos above from a hastily-made trench. "Well, well, I would've chosen a more elegant approach against them, but… Magicide bullets… it's as if they knew…" mumbled Rinyaka.

If not for the bullets, she would have preferred using her magical force-field. She'd have fun with her tremendous magical powers.

"They knew," Lady Hazenbach replied in a sour tone.

"Heh. Cover me." Rinyaka raised an arm. She started chanting. Above the ground, chunks of mortar and bricks coalesced into a behemoth, a quadruped a tenth of the old castle's size. It crushed an Arachraft with just a bang of its fist.

Victory would have been theirs, if only something didn't happen, something that only one person on the battlefield expected.

By the time Rinyaka saw the betrayal, it was too late. She focused too much of her attention and energy on the behemoth above. Eisernhande Eterna Hazenbach had already encircled her master with her Warp Cage spell.

Correction: former master.

"Rinyaka the Third," Eterna declared. "You are under arrest for countless crimes, one of the most heinous being the genocide of Angrim. I, Eterna, am the Confederation's spy in your midst, waiting for this day to come to capture you and bring you to justice."

Rinyaka slowly turned around. "Et tu, Eterna?"

Triumph welled inside Eterna. She had gathered magical energy inside her ring for years to overwhelm her master's tremendous power, especially with the Warp Cage being not a simple spell. And she had waited for her role as a spy to end for years, even before the war started.

Overhead, the behemoth shattered into inanimate pieces.

Eterna couldn't bring herself to look at her master in the face. "I'm sorry," she said.

Then an unexpected turn of events changed everything. Everything.

The old castle, having been savagely ripped apart by the battle, let loose some of its stored ancient magic, a powerful shockwave that sent many magic-based items haywire. The Arachrafts twitched and convulsed, immobilized.

Eterna's Warp Cage popped, and being a powerful sorceress, felt like she had just poked into a plug with a screwdriver. Sprawled on the ground thrashing in pain, with horror she saw her former master looming over her with an unreadable expression.

But instead of the empress, Eterna saw but a little girl.

"What's happening here? Where am I? M… Mom?"