Commander Kimmen noticed her first, and his gaze was sharp as he reviewed her. It was difficult to keep walking forward when his displeasure at noticing her presence was palpable enough to thicken the air into molasses. But in a strange way, it also gave her a jolt of motivation; it was clear that Commander Kimmen understood who she was, and what her presence meant.
“Councilwoman DiCatto. What… a surprise. But I must say we do not have time to negotiate the relative value of torture… as you can see, the survivors of the poorly chosen attack on Franksburg remain… whole.” Commander Kimmen gestured with a grimace to a group of people off to the side. Tessa tried not to wince. Although he seemed to believe they hadn’t been tortured, the group was clearly beaten and bruised, with a contingent of mages around them in case they misbehaved. Their hands were bound with manacles forged by the Dawn Smith himself, and to this day, no one had managed to shatter the metal that made them.
Lucifer just stood there with folded arms and looked at Tessa with a puzzled expression. If anything, his reaction to her was even more off-putting.
“Ah, Commander Kimmen I’m glad that you are so well acquainted with the Articles of War adopted by Franksburg. But to clarify, I did not draft those, they were put out by representatives from Star Crossing, and approved by Donnyton. I was only the individual who brought them to-”
Commander Kimmen interrupted her. “Let me be frank; I know who you are and what you do. And you have put the army in a very difficult position. Our training programmes are the most efficient path to receiving the Class which will most enable them to assist their country on the battlefield. Before your Referendum, it was understood that a soldier would be required to choose the Class that was the fruit of the army’s very focused efforts. And yet now young people, who are essentially balls of hormones, feel justified and ignoring their true calling and selection something pointless like Artist.”
The disgust in his voice was clear. So much so that Tessa badly wanted to take a step back from him. He definitely had an Aura Skill, and it was rumbling outwards, pressuring her to back down. Before she even said what she came here to say, he was pushing her away. Tessa felt the part of herself that she had inherited from her mother rear its stubborn head. She bit her lip and stood her ground.
“Ultimately, you are simply an employer. A Class is not something that can be prescribed to you. The most up to date research out of Donnyton indicates,” Tessa began, but again, Commander Kimmen interrupted her.
“What person knows what they want? People make foolish decisions all the time. A guiding force is necessary and desirable. So many people will waste their potential due to you. I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that you have altered the course of history for the worst. Good day, Councilwoman.”
Commander Kimmen turned to go, but Tessa took another step forward. “Are you taking the prisoners with you? This is actually why I’m here. If you plan on moving POWs into the field of operations, you need to bring a doctor and a representative from a civilian authority. Whether that be a designated Classer or a high ranking member of the police force, or-
“...or a Council person,” Commander Kimmen said with a small smile. “We already have numerous medics, so they can surely stand in for the required doctor. To think I was angry when you arrived… thank you for volunteering, Councilwoman DiCatto. We will be departing shortly, right this way.” Commander Kimmen took a step towards her. He did not touch her, but the sheer physicality of him was more threat than a hand on her arm would have been before the advent of the System.
This was exactly why they needed laws to govern the use of power. This man, this smug smile on his face, this amount of force that most people who had not chosen to specialize in Strength were unable to resist.
“I… I didn’t come here for that. I-” Speaking was difficult, but Tessa tried to form words around her rising fear. Commander Kimmen ignored her.
His hand landed on her shoulder. It was light, but the threat behind it was not. “Let’s not dwell on the past. After this, we can consider it even. March, soldier.”
Tessa took a step forward. Then she gasped, and a hot flash of embarrassment and indignation washed over her. He used a Skill on her! A Councilwoman! Well, in her next resolutions that would be punishable by 1000 years of getting fucked by-
Looking at her hand, Tessa wondered why it was being held by Lucifer. He palm had cushioned her hand as it had rushed at Commander Kimmen. She had thrown a punch at him. Immediately, Tessa went pale. Shit, if she had actually hit him, all of the work on abuses of power that she had done-
Lucifer let go of her hand and turned to Commander Kimmen. “We will wait. A few hours makes no difference. Contact the police force.”
Then he turned back to her. “Was there anything else?”
This was the truth of it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. She knew this. But it was still bitter to be faced with the proof of her own faults. Randidly… Randidly wasn’t a monster. He was just the first of many to ascend to a level that was beyond that of a human by a significant margin. Lucifer was the same way. They defied convention and moved freely between different roles. Which was exactly why the Chivalric Orders were necessary. With the proper definition of what they were to the state…
“Uh…” Tessa came abruptly back to herself and flushed. Honestly, Lucifer had spared her a great deal of shame. Her punch… was definitely not enough to make someone like Commander Kimmen even flinch. “No. I was only here… to make sure the POWs were treated fairly.”
“Then let me escort you back,” Lucifer said quietly. Tessa felt her hackles rise to the implicit acknowledgment of her weakness, but there was nothing she could say. This was how it was. She nodded and hated herself for it.
Many people had suggested that she hire a bodyguard, but to Tessa, this seemed like surrendering to the other side. The point wasn’t to gather enough physical power around herself that she was a true threat to some of these powerful individuals but to show that a high level of accomplishments in the System was not all that humans could seek.
As a child, Tessa had loved to read speeches from the great political leaders of the past 200 years. Even when she learned that they had been written by average people, and only read by the leaders, this hadn’t shaken her enthusiasm. If anything, it intensified it. Because then these speeches really were something that came from regular people. And their power was not just in the mouthpiece they used, but also the persuasive allure of well-wrought language.
That was Tessa’s goal. To create something that would stand the test of time and define the philosophy of their city, maybe even all of Rawland. But right now…
As they made their way back to the city, Tessa furiously chewing on her lip the entire time, they passed another military camp. Waving calmly, Lucifer strolled past the group. But they made Tessa’s heart heavy as she looked at them. It was Sydney’s group.
This was the other path, the path that Tessa had not taken. This was a woman who had pulled herself up through power to stand equal to all comers. Not only was she strong enough to assist Lucifer himself, but the people of Franksburg respected her. Even Tessa respected her, for all that it was surreal to hear the name of someone she had known before the System spoken of in such considered tones.
Sighing deeply, Tessa looked away. And then a voice called her name.
“Tessa! Is that you?”
Tessa looked up to find Sydney was there, looking somewhat taken aback. Tessa mustered up her best smile. “Sydney! I had heard that you were living in East End, but I didn’t know…”
“Relax, I don’t mind you haven’t called,” Sydney said, rolling her eyes. Lucifer had stopped and was considering the two women. Eventually, he turned and walked back towards them. Sydney walked up to join the group and then hugged Tessa. The huge was tight and sweaty, due to the sun overhead. But Tessa didn’t really mind. It was… nice to be on the receiving end of a physical touch where kindness was the goal. That didn’t happen often for Tessa, anymore.
“And I heard you are a Councilwoman now. I bet that’s strange. If we were still living in the old world, would we even be old enough to run for Councilwoman? The world is a strange place.” Sydney shook her head. “Sometimes, the magic seems like the easy part.”
“That’s easy for you to say, you have your own VIllage. And a pretty hot one these days too. Everyone wants to go and find an elemental that they can use. Where did you get the idea for that, anyway?” Tessa asked.
“A loyal subordinate that encouraged me to take gambles.” Then Sydney nodded towards Lucifer. “It was Drake. After going into the Raid Dungeon… he became rather pessimistic about the future of East End if we didn’t adapt. That was how much of an impression the people from Donnyton made on him.”
It was strange to acknowledge the influence Donnyton had on them all, and everyone fell silent. Donnyton was always moving forward and refining their treatment of Skills, Classes, and Paths. When it came to raw knowledge, few matched Daniel and Clarissa. Their equipment production industry was so effective that they were reaching the point that the equipment you could buy from them was just as powerful as those you could buy through the System created shops. Their squads were relatively small, but when they moved they ripped through monsters like they were below Level 10. They made everything look so easy.
Even Tessa, who very rarely was near actual fighting, had been impressed the few times she had seen Donnyton’s Squads in action. Tessa opened her mouth to say something, but her wristlet began to ring. It was Jeremy.
“Ah, excuse me, I need to take this,” Tessa said, and she stepped away from the other two.
Immediately, she heard Lucifer say to Sydney, “Thank you.” She didn’t hear Sydney’s reply as she answered the phone.
“Councilwoman, you need to get back here now. Something big is happening in Zone 1. Something that is gonna really light your fire.”