The Holy Body
Polity: Holy Kingdom of Solsea
Naval Strength: Papal Guard (400 ships), plus Solceanist irregulars.
“Skarsgaard retainers! Cease your heretical resistance at once! Her Holiness is guided by God and goes where He wills! You are all her subjects, and must turn from the abdicator to her!”
Volleys of coilgun shells crossed paths in the waters over Amaryllis station, seat of power of the Skarsgaard duchy. Though Amaryllis was a small pillar-type station housing only one major domicile, it was fiercely defended. Barrages of light and fast rocket-propelled missiles launched from recessed racks on the station surface, forcing the attackers to keep up a massive flak barrage to defend themselves from the projectiles and slowing down their progress. A fleet of several dozen frigates held their ground around the station’s waters, forming a defensive formation that maximized their ability to fire on the invaders.
Such a scene could have come out of any station invasion scenario in any military textbook.
However, it was the identity of the attackers that shook the confidence of the defenders.
Rather than a flotilla of bandits or anarchists, the invaders composed a massive fleet with dozens of ships, all of which were painted stark white, red and gold and decorated with the cross and sun of the Church of Solceanos. They did not fire the first shot, not with ordnance. The Papal Guard and the Church Paladins demanded entry and occupation of the station. Such a demand itself constituted violence as the station belonged entirely to the Duke of Skarsgaard’s House.
However, the young Duke Carthus von Skarsgaard had all but abdicated his duties.
He had left with his close friend Prince Erich von Fueller, and there he remained.
Amaryllis was abandoned. The Skarsgaard family retainers would not be relieved.
Skarsgaard’s own history precipitated the conflict.
While Skarsgaard had always contained the holy see of the Solceanos church, there had always been tension between the Ducal estate and the Holy See over the state’s coffers, military power and social policy. It did not matter to the Dukes and Duchesses of Skarsgaard that the Church was sacred and sanctioned by the Empire, and beloved by the people — affairs of power trumped any affairs of the afterlife. A separation of powers and thus of influence kept a delicate peace. The influence of the Emperor prevented either force from fully taking control of the state. Now, however, there was an additional problem for Skarsgaard’s secular military forces.
Emperor Konstantin von Fueller was dead. With his death, the balance was sundered.
To complicate matters, the current head of the Holy See was Millenia von Skarsgaard II. The disinherited youngest daughter of the ducal family, who had risen through the ranks of the church, acknowledged as a holy woman touched by God. This woman, who had been denied the secular control of the state, had achieved comparable power through control of its religion.
This produced a standoff, in which the detachment sent to take the Station for the Holy See met with the Skarsgaard defenders. While the defenders stood their ground and upheld their secular duty to defend the Skarsgaard family holdings, they had no leadership and were outgunned. All they could do was harass the Papal Fleet with missiles, forcing them to slowly move forward under a massive curtain of flak, largely unable or unwilling to deliver much firepower in return.
“Skarsgaard retainers! You stand against God and all that his holy! You will drown in the flooded hell and be barred from the warmth of heaven! We do not wish to condemn any more souls to the horrors of the Deep! Surrender yourselves and your weapons, and repent for your evil!”
In the center of the Papal Guard fleet was the state-of-the-art Irmingard-class Dreadnought Anointed One, a massive and beautiful ship with its stark white armor decorated with swirling gold patterns. The Anointed One used its superior electronic warfare package to push acoustic messages on the lesser and older Frigates of the Skargaard retainers. All of the messages were sent by the military leader of the church, Paladin-General Rosemont, a radiant older woman clad in shining armor. Had the retainers been able to see her furious face as she conveyed the messages their morale may not have survived it. Anything she said seemed powered by the utmost righteousness.
Behind her, raised on a throne in the middle of the bridge, was Pontiff Millennia herself.
Long, flowing robes of a vinyl-like material trailed down her lean body, bedecked with gold. She wore a tabard with two horizontal red stripes along the edges and the sun and cross of the church. A habit partially covered her rusty-red hair, but messy bangs could be seen to come out of the front, and the sheer length of it could be seen to come out the back. She had a bored expression on her lightly painted lips, propped her olive-colored cheeks up with her hands.
Her wine-red eyes developed a glowing ring around them. A small cross-shaped ornament hovered in mid-air near her, spinning as the Pontiff turned it over and over in her mind, distracting her from the tension around herself. This sort of thing happened around the woman known as “The Holy Body.” Her miracles were well known, and over time they came to be seen as a qualification to lead the church. Objects would move by themselves; common people would become inspired to sing holy words in her presence; messages from God would appear spontaneously on the walls.
“Sister Rosemont, I would like to address the leader of the enemy fleet if possible.”
Around the bridge, all of the officers wore white and red uniforms. They were all faithful of the church, but also military personnel with full Navy training. Being able to work on this vessel was a privilege for them, and they cared about the Pontiff. They hung on her every word. When she spoke, they paid attention. They pored over her every word very carefully and silently.
Rosemont turned and kneeled in front of the Pontiff.
“We shall do always as you command, Pontiff. I am deeply sorry.”
Millennia narrowed her eyes. “There is nothing to be sorry for. I am not so unmovable that I demand my retainers do the impossible for me. These heretics will learn their place, not because your faith was not strong enough to show them, but because their ignorance was too dreadful. Besides, we could do battle with these heretics, but I do not wish to cause any harm to the station.”
“Thank you, most Holy one. Your mercy and understanding bring me joy.”
A laser request was sent from the Anointed One to the defending fleet.
The Skarsgaard retainer’s fleet selected a missile Frigate, the Unwavering, to answer.
This was predictable. Missile Frigates had more experienced crews than Gun Frigates did. When asked for a representative, an unled flotilla would always select the most experienced crew to do so. Millenia had counted on being able to talk to the Captain of that one particular frigate. An unremarkable uniformed man appeared soon on her personal screen, trying to look confident.
“This is Captain Emmett–”
She could instantly feel it. A weak, unguarded mind with no potential whatsoever.
He was not only unguarded, but afraid, and that also compounded things. Those without potential had few mental barriers, and confidence and force of will could still decide the contest, but fear always undid them. Even the slightest lick of psionic power would have made her switch strategies. Such a weak-willed nonbeliever, and already in a vulnerable state, had no defenses.
“It is unnecessary for me to introduce myself.”
Millenia had him where she wanted him the instant their eyes made contact.
Red rings appeared around her eyes which his eyes took on as well.
Those around him who lacked psychic ability could not tell he was being controlled.
“Put me on the main screen and use the upper room camera to show me the whole bridge.”
Emerich obeyed instantly. Millenia felt a sting as her neurons burned with effort.
On her screen, the video expanded so she could see all the confused faces on the bridge.
All of them looked at her with the red glow around their eyes.
Nonchalantly, she declared her orders.
“Fire all of your missiles at any surrounding ships. Use instant tracking and do not monitor their progress. Simply fire at will. Then turn your ship around and flee at maximum speed.”
Complicated, suicidal orders would have been much more difficult to execute.
This was not simply pushing on their arms to make them hit buttons.
Millenia was overriding the crew’s will. She was controlling their minds directly.
All of them broke eye contact, and began to do as Millenia ordered.
On her main screen, Rosemont and the crew watched as the algorithmic predictor picked up a dozen heavy missiles flying out of the center of the Skarsgaard retainers’ defensive formation. Explosions went off around the fleet, and ships began to list and sink, such that the remaining undamaged ships could do nothing but flee and there was total chaos among the defenders.
To those watching in the bridge of the Anointed One, it was nothing short of a miracle.
They crossed themselves, gave prayer, and a few prostrated themselves before Millenia.
“Praise be, Pontiff,”
Rosemont turned to meet her Pontiff again and venerate her, but gasped when she did so.
Blood flowed copiously out of Millenia’s nose and down her lips.
From the sides of her eyes, tears of blood began to trickle down her cheeks.
She felt a burning inside her skull as if her brain had been cleaved in half.
Her hands grabbed hold of the armrests of her seat, squeezing as she endured the pain.
Backlash. A monumental amount of psychic backlash.
Even with all that she practiced; she was still not completely ready.
It did not matter. She was still alive. As long as she lived, God would be with her.
To her subjects, however, the sight of her bleeding body was quite shocking.
“Pontiff, is this the stigmata?” Rosemont asked. That large armored woman kneeled beside Millenia and tenderly held her hand and kissed it. “Can we do anything to ease your suffering?”
Millenia grit her teeth. She could not speak, not immediately.
For minutes, she rode out the pain of the backlash.
Finally, she gasped for breath, released from the fog and agony that had taken her mind.
“I am fine, Rosemont.”
Millenia smiled, her mouth, tongue and lips soaked in her own blood.
“This is the price that must be paid to God to beseech his divine presence into the Deep to which we are condemned.” she said. On some level, she believed this, even if only as the explanation she had concocted for abilities she understood to be beyond the purview of Man. God had never spoken to her directly.
She imagined God did not Speak. He made his presence known in other ways.
Weakly, she stood from her throne. She wiped the blood from her mouth with her hand.
Everyone on the bridge watched her raise that bloody hand.
Today was not the first time she had killed, or even killed many.
Only she knew that it was herself who killed them. To her faithful, it was God’s doing.
“Miracles are not solely the purview of the Holy Body. Your own faith can make miracles if you can make the commensurate sacrifice. Faith is key; the ignorant will never reach God.”
There was a reverent silence as the crew took in the Pontiff’s words.
“Now, unleash the Divers and take the station. Without the fleet’s flak, they can’t stop us from boarding them. Continue to interdict any missiles. Once the station is secure, I will board it.”
She sat back down on the chair, and requested an attendant come clean her face.
A long time ago, Millenia had learned that it was possible to manifest her powers against anything she could see. To make “miracles” happen she moved things by spying on them with drones or video cameras. For sentient beings, they could come under its effects if they could see her live. They could not be affected by video recordings, images, or any such thing, but if she could see and speak to them with a connection lag time of a few seconds or less, such as with a laser connection. Furthermore, she understood that there were powerful people other than herself.
There was a limit to what she could do. Pushing and pulling did not hurt her too much.
At least, not when using those powers on small objects or on weak people.
More complicated psychic tasks took far more of a toll on her health.
This made it vitally important to use her powers strategically, on the weakest targets.
Through politics and trickery, she had exposed and crushed most of the people with strong potential in the Church. There were only a few, who were loyal to her, or too important to get rid of, that remained. One such person arrived at the Bridge at the command of the Pontiff herself.
Dressed in a red and white habit, matching the Pontiff, if not as ornate. This sister was a young woman, olive-skinned with very light red hair, almost pink, and slightly pointed ears. She had a tidy, shoulder-length bob and a regal beauty to her facial features. Everything about her appeared collected, calm. Inexpressive. Almost doll-like, save for the small smile she gave the Pontiff as she arrived. With a portable basin of warm water and a cloth, she began to clean the face of the Holy Body, tinging the water a rusty red color as more blood came off the dipped cloth.
Once we’ve taken Amaryllis, I’ll use the network override hub to declare myself Holy Empress of the Empire of Solcea on every government screen that can broadcast a picture. Carthus will be excommunicated. Anyway, what do you think of the name? Good branding?
Outwardly, Millenia was just resting, recovering from her miracle.
Sounds impressive. It will certainly draw the attention of our opponents.
Her attendant, Sister Salvatrice Vittoria, appeared only to be cleaning the Holy Body.
And yet, the two them carried out a conversation. They spoke directly to the other’s mind.
Like with any psychic ability, if this was done to the unaware it would be more difficult.
Millenia had Salvatrice’s consent, so it was effortless to use her powers to speak to her.
I would like you to try dreaming again, Millenia said.
My dreams have been of little use to us, and I don’t enjoy them, Salvatrice replied.
I am curious. We need more information, and you have uncovered some useful things.
Only as a fluke. I’d rather put my efforts into something more concrete.
Millenia acknowledged her psychically. As if sending a “nod of the head” via their link.
How have your dreams ended lately? Did you die again?
Salvatrice sent a distressed, somewhat silly expression over the link.
Forget about that for now. I have important news. I found Faiyad Ayari.
Millenia sent her an annoyed Millenia face into her thoughts, with big, round, angry eyes.
Do you realize how scary that guy’s aura is? I almost felt like he would notice I was looking for him in the aether and that he would just link to me from that far away and attack me.
Where is he?
I traced it to Sverland. Millenia, we should be careful the hornet’s nests we stir.
What should I be afraid of?
Things we are not meant to see, know, or dig up. People we should not mess with.
More concretely, please.
I’m not afraid of him. The Church kept him locked up for years.
Millenia, he escaped! He escaped from your Church!
He is just an opportunist. I will expand the search for Maryam and we will leave our options open when it comes to dealing with Faiyad. Unfortunately, we may have to struggle for physical control of Sverland with the Volkisch and the Noble Alliance. And if we cross that line, our Southern and Eastern fronts may be opened to Veka. We may have to be underhanded instead. We can use the flock to apply pressure beyond our borders.
Salvatrice crossed her arms and nodded sagely, in Millenia’s mind.
We should let Sverland be fought over by the Rhineans. They’ll weaken themselves.
We’ll let the military dictate battle strategy. Rosemont is a bootlicker, but she’s smart. But like I said, I’m leaving my options open for dealing with all of this. From where I’m sitting, I have no shortage of assets to use.
Soon it came to pass that Salvatrice had completely cleaned Millenia’s face.
They had very little reason at that point to stand beside one another any longer.
Salvatrice was a civilian, and Millenia did not want her to draw too much attention.
“Thank you for your service, Sister.”
“It is my honor and pleasure to serve you.”
“I will see you again tonight. You must attend to my meal, bath and bedchamber.”
“Of course. It is the honor and privilege of my life to render such service.”
Salvatrice dried Millenia’s face with a new towel, took the basin and left.
Millenia would be able to speak more with Salvatrice.
When they ate, when they bathed, in bed. There would be opportunities.
There was no sense feeling like they needed to have the whole conversation right then.
Nevertheless, Millenia felt frustrated.
Eager to make her wishes come true. Salvatrice lacked ambition. She didn’t understand.
Millenia was beginning to develop a concept of how the world really worked and if she was correct in her assumptions then the Imbrian Empire was small potatoes compared to what was hidden from her in the aether. However, the Empire and its resources were necessary to fulfill her ambitions. Skarsgaard had a developed industrial sector able to exploit its mineral resources, and create any necessary weapons for a war. Their agriculture could sustain hardship in the near term. By ruling Skarsgaard with a regime of religious authoritarianism she could keep the social and political sphere stable and expand from there.
Scrambling the right brains would help with that ambition as well.
No one would dare defect or flee, if they knew the agony that she could subject them to.
Millenia needed more and greater scientific development. And the right sort of development.
Imbrians seemed to develop psionic power the least. Could the power be genetic in nature?
However, the ethnic makeup of most Imbrians was complicated.
Salvatrice was a Kattaran elf. Millenia suspected she was not purely Imbrian herself.
Without proper facilities, personnel, equipment and resources, she could never unravel this mystery. She needed more than just Salvatrice’s dreams. She needed more brains, more minds to throw at these questions in order to decipher the mystery. They had to be the correct minds, as well.
If she was successful, she might be able to ascend beyond this fallen place, beyond this accursed ocean beneath a dying sky.
Millenia dreamed of an Empire that spanned more than just the territory of Aer.
And if she was correct about the world; and if Salvatrice’s dreams proved true–
“Pontiff, the defenders of the inner sanctum have surrendered.”
Rosemont reported the good news. On the bridge’s main screen, they connected to cameras showing the interior of Amaryllis being surrendered to several Volker and Jagd class Divers that had been sent from the Papal Guard fleet. Millenia’s Paladins had routed the opposition. Amaryllis was hers. With it, Skarsgaard’s secular government was no more. All of the state bowed to her.
Millenia grinned from ear to ear. She wanted to burst out laughing, but controlled herself.
This was just a small step on a journey that promised to take her past heaven itself.