“Some people are better off dead.”
I smile vaguely upon stepping into Dorver's Office. “Hello, I am back.”
The gnome puts down the pencil and looks up at me. He was working on some sort of contract, but when I stretch my neck in order to take a closer look at it, he turns the sheet around to stop me from reading it. It's to be expected. We are partners in crime, but he isn't obligated to reveal private information about his other customers.
“The great inventor is back! Took you longer than anticipated. Five weeks of bumbling about in the Sociocrathy. Did you think about settling down?” Dorver’s voice sounds serious, but I can tell that he is teasing me. The regular updates which he gave me with the communication crystal allowed me to learn about his peculiarities.
“Ah, you know how it is. A new city with new possibilities. Once I started exploring all the opportunities, I couldn't stop until I was sure that I have seen everything,” I explain.
He nods. “Jebli Port is a big city and an even bigger playing field for all sorts of people. Someone who has no agenda can be easily swept away by all the available options to further one's goals. I was just worried. You kept your head down for so long. Nobody knew what you were doing and it's not like you have a permanent residence. I am still afraid that you will just vanish one day.”
I raise a finger. “Hah! That's exactly what I wanted to talk about. Do you have a place for me? Living in an inn isn't very comfortable for a person like me. They don't allow me to change the furniture. When I tried to set up a little workbench they threw me out.”
The gnome coughs. “That's just to be expected. What kind of accommodations are you searching for?”
I hum and think about it. “Somewhere remote. I need blacksmithing equipment, alchemy equipment. Not too big, I don't want a mansion.”
“We have a real estate agent in our guild. I am sure that he can find something.”
I smile. “That would be appreciated.”
The next day, I am in my new workshop at the edge of the city. It's not like I have much, so moving in was a matter of throwing down my backpack and declaring this my new temporary home. I also started working on a few projects, but of course I didn't get much done. My next feat is intended to force the world to look up to me. I have to be a person whose name is whispered when big things are happening.
The map in front of me helps me to focus on my goal. I just hope that my time in Jebli Port wasn't wasted. I've laid the seeds for many things, which should bloom into flowers soon enough. Why is it that so many worlds use slave collars? Carving the spell directly into the victim's skin makes so much more sense.
But my thoughts are derailing again. Once more I consider the various parties which are going to be involved in my plans. It's obvious that the Alliance, the Sociocrathy and the Empire will be in the centre of everything that's going to happen. Their nobility will dictate the events. Especially the Alliance, which is more of a powder keg than I ever anticipated.
But there is also the consortium of mages on their Islands. I've no idea what they'll do once my company starts selling spacial chests. Nobody who has a monopoly on something will easily give up on it.
The orks of Westfall are also unpredictable. Westfall is a large desert in the west of the Sociocrathy. Many people are eager to label the orks as the reason for why the Sociocrathy never actively joined the war between the Alliance and the Empire. Having a second enemy at your back is a very good excuse, if not for the fact that the orks lack resources and real weapons.
The Sociocrathy of today is larger than it was two hundred years ago. The history texts didn't tell who threw the first stone, but after a bloody war, the Sociocrathy drove the orks from the continent's northern shores. The orks retreated west, into the desert. Their nomadic lifestyle allowed them to do that. Their culture, which favours the survival of the fittest, created hardy people.
The ork leaders probably tried to lure the foreign troops into the desert, where they would die like flies because of the harsh environment. But it was a mistake. Instead of following them, the Sociocrathy settled down and created a large network of garrisons at the border to Westfall. There was no point in fighting for a desert, since the Sociocrathy just wanted the fertile coastal areas. The orks started several campaigns to retake their homelands, but each campaign ended in defeat. With each loss, the orks weakened. Without access to metals, their people degenerated to stone-axe wielding barbarians.
There are also various island chains with little, pirate kingdoms. They will have to play their role, but for now I don't think that I have to worry about them. But I guess that they could cause trouble if they unite with the wrong faction. I've to find a way to prevent that from happening.
The almost imperceptible sound of a window being opened alarms me. I reach for my mask and draw the dagger at my belt. Seriously? I buy myself a place and someone sends me visitors right the next evening? They must have some connections within the merchant's guild. Otherwise they wouldn't have found out so fast.
I step out of the workroom and survey the short corridor which leads to the kitchen, living room and bedroom. The house is small, but it's the former property of a high class merchant. There are metal bars in front of every window and everything is warded against uninvited guests.
So it's a little surprising that the window to the garden is standing open. I approach as silently as possible, looking out for dangers. But even with my mask, I can sense almost nothing. There is a faint trace of magic around the window.
It turns out that someone cut out the metal bars and piled them neatly on the windowsill. The fact that it was done doesn't disturb me as much as the fact that I didn't notice any usage of magic. Despite sitting practically next door when it happened. I noticed nothing.
So where did the intruder go afterwards? Or am I dealing with several people?
Holding the dagger in front of me, I walk past the kitchen and continue onwards after confirming that nobody is inside. When I step into the living room, someone switches on the magelights.
“Hello.” An androgynous voice greets me from the bookcase. An elf is standing in front of it, studying one of the books.
I aim the tip of my dagger at him. “What does me the honour?”
The elf closes the book and places it back in its place. He turns towards me and smiles. His slim figure can't hide the beginnings of strong muscles and tendons at his neck. The face is entirely too beautiful, awakening the wish to kiss those lovable lips.
Something must've shown my own revulsion, because the rosy aura around the elf immediately vanishes. It's replaced by the hardy impression of an assassin.
The elf bows. “I am sorry if my glamour affected you. Using my ability wasn't civilised. You can call me Alias, and I am here to apologize on behalf of my people.”
“Apologize?” Yeah, right. More like testing me. Otherwise he wouldn't have used a mental attack on me. I am just glad that I've my mask on, or I would be attached to the elf's lips. This glamour thing of his is strong. But he said that it’s an ability. Does that mean that there is another elf around? Or does he have magic and an ability? Now that would be unfair. Are they already sending me the endboss while I am still level two?
He gestures to the couch as if this is his home. “Please, take a seat.”
I don't lower the dagger. He sighs and sits down on the chair which is facing the couch. “I am Alias. I am a messenger and I was sent to apologize on behalf of the ruling house of the elves. Things were handled... incorrectly.”
I slowly approach the couch, but I don't sit down. Instead, I use the couch as an additional barrier between him and myself. The fact that I can't judge this guy's strength worries me. He has his magic completely under control. “Incorrectly? Is that what you call an abduction attempt?”
“The Finguld misbehaved and we are sorry for that. They will be punished. Can we do anything to make it up to you?”
Somehow, he must've noticed the rising eyebrows behind my mask, because he gives me an explanation. “Gwiaha told us everything.”
“Oh? I think that I ordered her people to bury the hatchet by keeping everything a secret. So why did she run to the ruling house? She ruined her own family by seeking out your help.”
The elf tilts his head, contemplating his next words. “Gwiaha may be a child by our standards, but she isn't stupid. She could've kept it quiet, but she is just a member of a branch family. It was very likely that her elders would've simply taken the dagger without concern for her well being. Had she done that, you would have a point of leverage on the Finguld. The Finguld aren't in a good political position and the possibility of being influenced by an outsider would have worsened that. It's very likely that her own family would've silenced her anyway.”
Alias purses his lips. “After weighing her options, she decided to plead to the king himself. In exchange for a complete testimony and her own body, the king promised to do everything to ensure her survival. He'll probably use her as a measly servant until she manages to erase the debt. Though, she is beautiful and her lineage is acceptable. Maybe she will manage to get a promotion to concubine.”
“Ah, I didn't expect that. Somehow I thought a little more of her. From the way she behaved, I assumed that she would never go against her kin.” I scratch my head. This just shows that I am not good at judging people. “So what do you want from me? Didn't I make it clear that I want to be left in peace?”
The elf sighs. “It's not widely known, but we elves are almost immune to mind magic. Our race is strong, long-lived and we have magic to boot. It's hard for any family to find trustworthy individuals. So it's quite rare to find someone who is willing to barter with her own freedom. The king doesn't waste opportunities, so he would be thankful if you told us how to remove the dagger.”
“She is still alive and kicking with that thing inside her belly? It's been over a week!” Ouch! Elves are a lot sturdier than they look. “But what would I get for telling you how to remove the dagger?” Somehow this farce turned into an issue between the elves.
Alias rolls his eyes. “It's clear that you have no idea of elven customs. The king would continue to ignore you, despite the fact that you attacked one of his subjects. If you help him to attain another personal attendant.”
I bite my lower lip. This isn't going how I want it to. No elves who I can blackmail once my social status rises.
He gestures at me. “Unless you like to fight off regular visits by elven assassins. Some of them even better than me.”
Better than him? How many of them are there? I've the feeling that I wouldn't survive that for long. At least not alone and in my current state. “You didn't even try to remove the dagger on your own?”
The elf huffs, which makes him look kind of cute. Damn! No! It’s the glamour again. How does it get past my mask’s defences? “Of course we tried to remove it. But it's hard to analyse a cursed item which is stuck inside the person who you are trying to save. Did you even intend for her to live?”
“I didn't exactly give her a high chance of survival,” I admit.
“So what is it? Are we at an impasse with our negotiations, or do you want to fight for your life?”
I circle the dagger around, thinking. The chance to blackmail the elves is already gone, so why should I make them even madder at me? The wrath of a single family would've been survivable, but it will get a little hairy if the entire elven kingdom wants my head. “I'll be left alone?”
“Then I accept your apologies.”
He smirks dangerously. “Thank you.”
“You can remove the dagger by twisting it clockwise, once, as you would do with a key inside a lock. Then you turn it further until it’s aligned horizontally with the ground. Then you pull it out. Nothing will happen,” I explain.
He raises his eyebrows. “That’s all!?” And his expression darkens. “That’s just barbaric and twisted. Who would design a curse which can be disabled so easily?”
“Admit that you would’ve never thought that it’s so easy. And why should I make a weapon which can be used against me?” I wriggle the dagger in my hand, drawing his attention to it.
He stands up and bows. “Then I’ll take my leave. It’s a pleasure to make business with you.” Then he walks out of the room.
I wait until I am sure that he is gone. Then a thought strikes me. “What about my window!?”