“The revelation of the secret behind the spacial chest struck the world's economy like a cannonball.”
A memory. I stand in a long row with naked children. We are held in a closed compound with about two hundred square metres. It has been like this for as long as I can remember. They never bothered to give us clothes. It's a wonder that they even taught us how to speak. Then again, it would be hard for a slave to receive commands if he or she doesn’t understand them. Nine years in this horrible place taught me one thing. Don't draw any attention.
The nursery is a place where they keep those who are destined to be slaves, but the reality is that it's nothing more than a pen for animals. Why bother? As soon as they placed the slave collars around our necks, we became nothing more than machines. Breathing machines who bleed if you cut them.
One of the slavers steps forward and calls out a few numbers. The slaves with the corresponding names step forward and are led away. I notice that the slavers selected those who have only a minor talent or weak magical gift.
They culled the ones without any ability long before I could gather a clear thought.
I know it because they use us as gravediggers to bury the corpses of those who don't make the cut. It's kind of morbid to start each new year with the burial of a pile of dead toddlers. Slaves without any ability aren't worth enough gold to feed them for another four years. Normal people can be enslaved at every village, if they are needed.
Maybe they will use today's selection as sacrifices or for manual labour.
The choice of revealing my full potential wasn't easy, but I didn't want to know what happens to those who aren't worth being kept around. When I turned seven, I started remembering the memory techniques which train the mind. I practised them ever since and got sharper and sharper, regaining my memories of my previous identities. Everything before that is just a vague haze. I suppose my brain wasn't up to the task.
I look around and notice several people in good clothes entering the compound. It seems like today, my time at the nursery ends.
“Oh, look at that one! Do you think she will be a nice fuck in ten years?” Two men in blue robes walk down the row of the remaining slaves. It was the larger one who spoke.
“Looks too much like my daughter when she was little.” The small and fat one points at me. “It's that one. Pale skin, black hair. Number 3-4-2.” His puffy cheeks wobble when he speaks.
The larger man squints his eyes at me. “I don't know. Black hair isn't my type. Why does it have to be her? Can't I take one of the blonde ones instead? Oh, I know. I'll take a redhead!”
“Nemus, do you want to gather the wrath of the Emperor? This is your task. You know how it goes.” The fatty reaches up and grabs the arm of the large man.
Nemus looks disgusted and pushes the man's hand away. “Okay, okay. Don't ask any questions and do the job. Sheesh! Why is this country so keen on secrets?” He turns and gestures for one of the slavers, then he points at me and another girl further down up the row. “I want that skinny one and the redhead over there!”
It bite my lower lip and drop my investigation of the enchantments on the new warehouses. Why did I have to remember such a disturbing thing? It's over. I got away. Why do those memories keep resurfacing?
I concentrate on the memory and try to find a reason for its importance. Is my subconsciousness trying to tell me something? And why did Nemus sound as if he was forced to take me as a slave?
No matter how hard I try to remember, no other clues on the circumstances come to mind. Why would there be a reason to pick one child over the others? Did I stand out somehow? There were others with lots of magical power, so I don't believe that it’s the explanation.
A noise from outside the warehouse draws my attention.
I give up on the inspection and head for the door, where I am greeted by Fae. “What are those things?”
Stepping aside, I gesture for her to enter. “Feel free to investigate.”
Her jaw drops and she quickly runs outside, then back inside. “Are you fucking kidding me? The Consortium will kill us if they learn about this!”
“No. Only if they find out. And, how did the recruitment go?” I answer.
She rubs her temples. “I have someone. A man by the name of Wilhelm. He and his crew are willing to join us. They are pioneers who often work for the army, so they are used to building all sorts of structures. All of them are good men and women with minor abilities or of low magical gift. So we can expect that they will do the work of a crew twice their number.”
I nod. “That sounds ideal.”
Fae doesn't sound convinced. “The issue is that there are twenty eight of them and seventeen have families. They insisted on taking their families with them.”
“So what's the problem? How many people are we talking about?” I ask.
“Twenty four men, twenty one women, fifty nine children of various ages. Makes one hundred and four people.” Fae pulls a face. “I don't think that the island is spacious enough for such a large population.”
I raise my eyebrows and whistle. “Oh. That means that we have three to four children per family. It's okay. I already expected a rather large number.” I look around. “I just need to set up a third warehouse as crew quarters and then they can furnish the interior according to their wishes.”
Fae studies the wide space with new eyes. “It might work. Are you confident in the strength of the enchantment? Is it even safe to have a living person inside a spacial... house?”
“There are no health risks. The only danger is if the enchantment collapses, which would expel everything inside this space into the real world. That would be a messy situation, but that's why I raised extra barriers for the warehouses. If something is strong enough to damage the warehouse, then the island has other problems.”
I scratch my cheek. “I could sink the entrance to the crew quarters into the ground. That would make it less susceptible to attacks.”
Fae furrows her forehead. “Why haven't you done so with the warehouses?”
“An easily accessible entrance makes it faster to load and to retrieve materials,” I explain.
We discuss the issue and the positioning of the warehouses, which doesn't sit well with Fae's idea of a strategic layout. It takes me a while to explain that anything which is able to punch through the island's barriers will cause the island serious harm. This place isn't a solid structure. Without the force fields, it will come apart like a piece of dry dirt.
In the end, I follow her idea of placing the crew quarters behind my own house. It's essentially on the aft of the island. Then she leaves to inform the workers of our decision. She assumed that it'll take a day for them to gather all of their belongings.
That's fine with me. Especially since my quest for crew quarters slowly turns into a tedious project. At first, I simply instruct the island to create a large cellar-like room beneath the ground. A large ramp and a wide entrance is supposed to allow easy access. Then I increase the size of the room until I reach the borders of the island. Instead of mage lights, I decide to go for windows.
And that’s the beginning of the end.
Being faced with the idea of having to live down here with scores of screaming children, I start adding walls to segment off living space. An old memory of stinking peasants strikes me. Then I add toilets, flowing water, bathrooms, washing areas.
And just for kicks I go for another level. This one, I leave empty for training purposes or for future expansions.
By the time I resurface, a sea of stars is blinking above my island. “Maybe I should just head for space and blow up this wretched world.” I rub my eyes and head back into my house to get at least a few hours of sleep.
The next morning, I get an update from my crew. All of us are gathered at the kitchen table. “That was good work,” I comment and bite into a loaf of bread. My house is well stocked with food, so I have no problem with sharing.
Last night, Kiara and Tristen didn't want to disturb me, so the two of them organized their efforts with Fae. They decided to gather all goods and people at a single location at the edge of the village.
Tristen nods. “You might want to know that the local noble doesn't like the fact that we are recruiting people from his village.”
Fae explains further. “He called it stealing when he confronted me.”
I take my time before I answer. “Will he be a problem?”
Kiara shakes her head. “I don't think so, but the rulers of villages like Sawood often reign like local kings. They overestimate their own importance, though I doubt that he will do something drastic with your island looming above his head. Though, I would check the food supplies for poison. It's likely that he doesn't realize how fast your island moves.”
“So he might think that his people will return if you don't make it to the next village. Sawood is in a remote area,” Brian finishes the explanation.
I groan and drop the loaf of honeyed bread onto my plate. “Let's go. I want to get this done before night falls.”
We head out and I manoeuvre the island to the indicated spot. It’s a field which is located downriver at the eastern edge of Sawood. Once the island is stationary, I use the control interface to land all of us in front of a small crowd of people. All of them are either humans or beastmen, but that's not what surprises me. If I estimate their numbers correctly... “That is significantly less than a hundred people.”
Fae nods with a grim expression and heads for a man with greying hair. He is not the youngest, but he looks very fit for his age. He is with a sturdy woman who matches his expression. “Hi, Wilhelm. Is there a problem with your people? It doesn't look like everyone made it in time.”
“Ah, no. Let me introduce my wife, Elma.” Wilhelm bows slightly. “I am afraid that the others can't come. Lord Hensworth has enacted his right to take some of them into serfdom. They had debts to the city, which they couldn't repay in time. A few others stayed behind because he forced the families of their women to keep them in town.”
“How much would it cost to clean their debts to this so-called lord?” I ask.
Fae gestures at me. “I am sorry, Wilhelm, Elma. This is your new employer, Lady Joyce.”
Lady!? I glare at Fae, but then I realize that these people need to see me as their superior. I almost forgot that because I wasn’t often called a lady.
Wilhelm bows again. “Hensworth mentioned a sum of fifty gold. That's more than most of us can gather in a lifetime. You don't need to bother yourself with our failure.”
“But they already signed the contract with me?” I look at Fae. There are a few very clear lines about me and my employees in that contract.
The elf nods. “I had everyone sign the contract yesterday. That's why I am so perplexed about this. Wilhelm, you shouldn't have talked to Hensworth. Joyce is your employer and therefore any such actions have to go through her.”
I massage the bridge of my nose. “Wilhelm. Go and get everyone as planned. We'll deal with Hensworth. Brian and Kiara, stay here. Tristen and Fae, come with me.”
Not waiting for an answer, I head for the town. “Does anyone have an idea of how to solve this peacefully?”
“Threaten to sue him. This whole situation stinks against the wind,” Tristen suggests.
Fae looks really angry. “They are already your employees. We made the contracts with free citizens, so Hensworth has no legal rights to keep them here. Serfdom is only used when a person is so deep in debt that he can't repay it in a lifetime. It isn't much different from slavery. Using it in this situation is total bullshit. He can't refuse if you offer to pay him out.”