“Spreading knowledge is easy. The issue lies in finding people who are willing to accept it.”
It's been three days since we left Sawood. The balustrade is finished and Wilhelm's men are beginning to raise the first watchtowers. I observe their progress from my lounge chair in the middle of my garden. The island is a lot more crowded since the workers arrived. The only issue which is bothering me, is that I can't run around naked without being seen.
I sigh and decide to get back to work. I raise the communication crystal to my head and activate it. Then I realize how stupid I am. I always assumed that I would have an information advantage while I travel around with my island. I thought that staying away from large cities with gates would be enough.
But what would stop a noble from entertaining a network of communication crystals? I would at least entertain a connection to the bigger cities, or to my superiors. I have to assume that no matter where I go, they’ll already know everything about my actions. I sigh. It doesn't change the fact that I have to stay away from gates.
The other side picks up the call and I get to hear the familiar voice of Dorver. “Hello, Troublemaker. You have no idea how pissed the governor of Hormundad is.”
“Are you in danger?” I ask.
There is a snort on the other end of the line. “Of course not. I just wanted you to know that you should stay away from big cities until you are ready to talk to the big people. By the way, the company is doing fine. A few days ago, we started selling the chests. For some nobles, it's slowly beginning to sink in that prices are going to drop. Many things are going to change. Oh, and I have arranged for you to be able to pick up money at any guildhouse within the Alliance.”
“That's perfect. Are there any other interesting news going around?”
“Hmm. That depends on how you see it. There was a large magical fire in Jebli Port. It burned out the entire underground slave market, slavers included. Hahaha! No, let's be earnest. It's not funny and a lot of people died. The authorities are freaking out, especially since news came out that Orwen also burned to the ground. Now there are all sorts of theories about a new spell which can wipe out entire cities. People are saying that the Alliance might be behind it.”
I bite onto my lower lip. “Why the Alliance?”
“They are the only ones who weren't hit by the magic. Oh, and there is one other thing. The Consortium has started to move. They are complaining that their monopoly is threatened. They are making all sorts of inquiries about us, but I think that they understand the fact that it's impossible to put the knowledge back into the box. By setting up many different factories, I have made sure of that. They can't kill off everyone who knows about the new chests. Even if they tried that, there are a lot of people who are interested in seeing the Consortium's monopoly broken.”
“Ok.” I lean back. So if the Consortium tries something against my company, they would have to be prepared for war. “One other thing. Do I have any chance of acquiring the white substance which is found together with aquamarine? Or any other crystal which can be used for power stones?”
There is a long silence. “That's a tough one. I know what you are talking about, but the stuff is rarely used and nobody is buying it. What's not asked for, isn't processed. You won't find much of it outside a power stone mine, where they mostly dispose of it.”
Damn! I was hoping that they don't know how to use Bertrandite. But if they don't have a use for it, then there is no reason to sell it. Ergo, they keep it inside the mines! So it isn't available on the open market. It doesn't matter that the mineral is not banned.
And if I go to a power stone mine and ask for it, I will raise all kinds of warning flags.
There is the shuffling of papers on the other end of the connection. “But there is an old mine which was used during the hot time of the war, about a hundred years ago. The Alliance razed an entire mountain until there wasn't a single piece of power stone left. Now it's abandoned.”
“You want to say that I won't have to deal with prying eyes if I get it from there.” That's actually a really good tip. “Please give me the location.”
He does and we say our goodbyes.
“You look very happy, Mistress.” Wilhelm approaches me from the side.
I nod. “My contact just told me that I am rich and powerful. What else could I want?”
The man smiles. “I meant to ask about the next project. The observation platforms will take two more days, but it would be nice to know our next task beforehand. It takes a while to make plans if it isn't something ordinary.”
Good man. “I thought about addressing the water issue. At the moment, we are only gathering rainwater and our supplies are dwindling fast. We can always stop to refill at a lake or a river, but I would like to be independent of such things. It's possible that there will be a time when we have no time for stops. For that reason, you should design something like sails. It's your choice if we span them up above the island, or to the sides.”
“Sails?” He frowns, clearly not understanding.
“They aren't really sails. Have you ever noticed how drops of water form on a surface when it's a foggy day? We need some masts and rigging to put up some loose webbing which can gather the water. A rectangle would be best, so that the water can flow directly into the tanks. Then we'll go cloud-diving whenever we fly somewhere,” I explain.
His eyes start sparkling. “That's interesting. I suppose that we want the option to retreat the masts if there is a storm or if we want to go really fast? Otherwise they would just break off.”
I nod. “You've understood it. I can use magic to reinforce the structure later on, but wooden masts would definitely break if the island goes at top speed and we lose the shields for some reason.”
We talk about a few other things. According to Wilhelm, his people are settling in nicely. There are no major issues, aside from the fact that there are no places for cooking. I admit that I kind of forgot about that little detail when I designed the apartments. We quickly correct my mistake by adding dedicated cooking areas to the apartments. A magical stove with heat enchantments is the easiest thing in the world. I don't even have to do it myself because the island is handling the spellwork.
Unfortunately, I also notice that some of the force fields are already beginning to break down. I have to spend a lot of time with the interface to correct the accumulating errors. It's clear that I need a few more power cores and more enchanters to run this place. Then I can go to the next phase of my plan.
I set course for a small mining town. The people of Teheim are revered for their excellent masons and the marble in the area.
I also inform my group of my decision to stop for more supplies and people. They have fit in nicely and found their roles.
Tristen is doing a lot of operational and organisational work. He says that it's a good preparation for running his own guild.
After learning from me about the island's possibilities, Fae and Kiara are planning future expansions for us.
Brian is... our guard. He spends all day on watch or he polices the workers. I guess that's the life of a birdbrain... guard, I mean.
I head down to the crew quarters in order to find Elma. Wilhelm may be the chief of my work-crew, but I have already learned that Elma is the unspoken elder of the community. I find her inside the apartment which she shares with her husband. They have an adult son who is one of the workers. He is living next door. I knock on the wall next to the entrance. Most rooms still don't have doors. “Hello. Do you have time?”
She turns around and almost falls to her knees, bowing. “Oh, Mistress! Of course I have time!” She offers me a chair and I take a seat inside her living room.
“I'm here to talk about all the children on the island. I want them to learn a craft.”
Elma looks perplexed. “But we are normal workers. Why would anyone want to teach us?”
This isn't going how I want it to go. In this society, children are expected to help with everything. I saw them helping out the adults wherever it was possible for them to be of use. “I need more mages to handle the island. I also need smart people who can solve complicated tasks. The easiest way to find someone who is trustworthy, is to train them ourselves.”
The woman nods, but it seems like she is too caught up in this world’s hierarchy. “Wouldn't it be easier to hire someone?”
“That doesn't address the issue of what the younger members of this community will do once they grow up. Some will leave, others will want to stay. If they stay, I have certain requirements for them. They need to be able to read, write and to do math at the very least.” Well, at least what counts as math in this world.
Elma looks surprised. “I can teach them the letters and Frick's wife was an accountant in Sawood's merchant guild. She actually got better payment than him until you appeared and offered twice their previous wage. We can set up morning classes.”
I smile. “I'll hire some professionals when we arrive in the next big town. But I also want to train the talented ones myself. Can you set up a time for all the children to meet me?”
Her eyes widen. “You'll train them yourself? You can't do that, Mistress. It isn't proper for someone like you to spend time with the lower classes. And what could you possibly teach someone who doesn't even come close to your talent?”
“Shouldn't I be the one who determines whether a person has talent or not? I don't expect to find a hidden archmage among you, but what some lack in power, they can compensate with skill. Assuming that they get the proper training.” I lean back.
Elma blushes. “I'll set up the classes and I'll arrange for everyone to meet you personally. What do you think of tomorrow morning?”
I nod. “Let’s meet on the second level. It's spacious and we won't be in anybody's way.”
After saying goodbye, I leave and head back to my house. The discussion took longer than I expected. I spend the rest of the day with fooling around inside my workroom. Probably I should have done something productive, but for some reason I don't feel like it.
The next morning, I am waiting on the lowest floor of my island. Elma arranged for every family to arrive at a different time. I didn't think of it, but the smart woman realized that I can't deal with everyone at once. It takes between twenty to thirty minutes to interview each group and to give the kids and youths who are of acceptable age a small test.
Those who have only abilities are easy to reject. They aren't real magic users in the traditional sense, so I can't train them. I test the others for their amount of power, but what I am really looking for is the ability to stay focused. Enchanters don't need a lot of power. They need a working brain to understand what they are doing and the ability to concentrate on an object for up to hours at a time. It depends on how complicated the spellwork is.
To check for that, I cast a light globe and order each child to hold it in front of him or her while I apply weak pressure to force it in various directions. That's the easiest task in the magical textbook. Use the basic force spell to push or to pull at an object.
Most children don't have the attention span to keep it up for more than five minutes before they give up or complain about headaches.
With seventeen families, it takes almost eight hours until I am done.
The meagre harvest of my efforts are two siblings who kept it up for over twenty minutes until I decided that they are worth the effort. Their parents are two mages of average talent who could've been minor nobility, had they received proper training. The girl is nine and her brother is ten. Twenty minutes of continuous concentration is actually decent for their age. With some training and schooling, they can make it to decent enchanters in two to three years.
Then I can assign them all the little maintenance tasks. I just have to say that it’s for training.
***Open Sea, Alliance's Western Coastline.***
“No!” The man crawls away from me, sniffling. “Why!? Eight years! We've been sailing the sea for eight years! Together!”
I slash the air with my sabre to clean it from the blood. “I am sorry, Destin. You've seen something you shouldn't have. We talked about this many times. The information about this operation has to stay on this ship. Acquiring the goods is just the first step.”
He gets on all fours, helplessly dragging his cut foot behind him. “But there are so many! And the documents for this new ship! What are you planning? This isn't mere piracy, Gregor! Wake up! I don't recognize you.”
I close my eyes. “So you also saw the documents? I am sorry, Destin. You always snoop around, seeing things you shouldn't see. This time, I simply have no other choice. I am so sorry. My friend.”
He raises his hands, but I step forward and stab the sabre into his neck. He gurgles and tries to stop the flow of blood from the wound in his throat. The blood escapes through his mouth just as easily and bloody foam is expelled from his nostrils. He trashes around like a drowning person, then he twitches a few times and lies still.
I didn't dare to close my eyes. My best friend. My only friend on this fucking ship. What did I do? I use my sleeve to wipe away the snot and the tears. At some point I started crying. A primal roar of anguish escapes me and I start hacking away at one of the crates. I'll use the sabre to destroy them all!
Searing pain burns my chest and I drop the sabre. I go to my knees and press my hands onto my chest's scarred skin. Exactly where the demon left its mark. I look up and search the ship's storeroom with my eyes. There are crates, spacial chests, stacked onto each other. Chest after chest after chest. More storage room than a normal trader would ever need.
“I understand. I know exactly what you want to do.” I crawl towards the body of my friend. I have to dispose of the corpse, or the curse on my chest will kill me. “And nobody is allowed to know.” My own unhinged laughter follows me as I shoulder the corpse and carry it outside.