“When you deal with the authorities, you always have to make sure to deal with the right ones.”
I shrug. “Isn't my new home just a big, fat target? I admit that we can probably wipe out a city if we really want to, but that's not why I created this place.” I want a place where I am safe from the barbarians of this world.
I point at the three approaching ships. “I seek power for the sake of being free. From now on, I won't dance to the tune of people like them! Never again! I'll play my own music.” Then I scratch my cheek and try to sound meek. “Do you really think that they will attack us?”
Tristen shakes his head. “It's hard to say. The Alliance puts only their best in charge of airships, so I expect them to be able to think. Attacking something that outweighs them several times over doesn't strike me as a good idea.”
“Then let's just wait for their first move. I have confidence in the island's barrier. It's unlikely that they can to break it.” Especially because the island already has several power cores which are hidden in different locations. Even if they take out one or two cores, the island won't fall.
Nobody says a word while we wait. The three ships slow down and encircle the island. “I just hope that they don't try to board us. It won't be good for them if they fly against the barrier,” I voice my doubts when one of the ships comes dangerously close.
“Any decent mage can sense your shields. They are so powerful that they shine even to the untrained eye,” Fae reassures me. “If we collide, it'll be entirely their fault.”
Brian is still observing them through his spyglass. He points at the ship which is flying slightly to our left near the aft of the island. “That one is signalling us. They want to come on board.”
“Ah, that could be a small problem. We don't have a possibility to allow an airship to dock with us.” I call up the control menu and manipulate the energy fields which are holding the ring of converted ore. The ring stops spinning and aligns itself with the horizon. Several large tiles of compressed matter detach from the ring. The tiles are u-shaped and two metres wide to allow easy and safe passage. Then I order the tiles to form a bridge which starts at our watchtower and runs straight outwards until it pierces a hole through our barriers.
At the end of the bridge, I place a large platform with several pillars. Those should be sufficient to anchor the airship.
“It doesn't matter how often I see it, your skill with force magic just freaks me out, Joyce. How are you doing it?” Fae asks.
“It's a secret which I'll never share. I have no intention to tell anyone how to duplicate the island,” I answer.
“Just give it a name already. If we keep calling it an island the name will stick! Especially since we are about to introduce ourselves to a bunch of people with high profiles,” Brian complains.
I sigh and watch as the ship which signalled to us turns around. They clearly intend to dock with the improvised port. “It's not like we planned this encounter. Okay, what do you think of Illum? That's the word for ‘it’ in another language.”
“At least it's better than 'Island',” Kiara says. She looks around. “And since you cobble this whole place together as you need it, without a plan, I must say that it fits! This place is indeed an ‘it’.”
“Okay, I hereby name this place Illum!” I proclaim.
My friends and I fall silent when we see men in uniforms approaching us. The normal soldiers wear blue. Two of the approaching men look different. They have red stripes on their chests, which probably indicates a higher rank.
The improvised bridge connects to the upper part of the balustrade, so the first two soldiers have to jump down to get to the same level as us. The bridge is wide enough to allow two men to walk next to each other. We step back and watch as the two men with the stripes join them.
I allow two more soldiers onto my island, then I activate a barrier. The seventh and eighth soldier run face first into the shield. They don't fall, but they are clearly startled.
One of the men with the stripes looks surprised. He is smaller and sturdier than the other one, but not fat. His hair is light brown and there are some wrinkles in the corners of his tiny eyes. The other man is larger and has dark brown hair, coupled with green eyes.
“What is the meaning of this?” the smaller man complains.
I bow slightly. “My name is Joyce and I am the owner and creator of this place. We call it Illum. I greet you and your men. We also beg you for your forgiveness, but we allow no soldiers in this place. You can have four guards as an escort, but the others have to stay on your ship.”
The man waves his hand, gesturing for his people to stand down. “I am captain Oswin and this is my first officer, Zane. A lot of people are searching for your flying rock. Guess our surprise when we found you above this abandoned mine.”
I smile. “I am sorry, but I heard nothing about that. Nobody told me that I am needed somewhere. I had a minor conflict with the governor of Hormundad. He charged me for damaging his city, but I promptly paid what I owed him. Since then, I haven't taken much interest in the affairs of the world. I was busy with my company,” I gesture at the 'palace' behind me.
Zane smiles, obviously taking great amusement in my words. Oswin doesn't look so happy. “That's strange. He said that you fled from his subordinates. And the mayor of Sawood said that you threatened to destroy his town.”
“Did he? I remember him interfering with my right to hire the people of Sawood. He was a very rude man, so I left after telling him that I insist on my rights. Do you have anything else, aside from the word of those two buffoons? Which isn't enough. A free citizen can't be ordered around as they tried to do it. They tried to force me into their service.” I spread my hands. “For obvious reasons.”
The captain nods. “And you refused to work for them. However, you being here is a problem, so lower that barrier.”
“No,” I answer without hesitation. “According to Alliance law, the military isn't allowed to police a free citizen on his or her own property. I am being generous in allowing you six to be here.” I admit that I wasn't a very good student of the historical texts in Hormundad's library, but the book about Alliance law was very interesting. The Alliance has a combined military, but the various races still don't trust each other completely. Everyone polices themselves. The military can only intervene if the Alliance as a whole is threatened.
“This is your property?” Zane asks with raised eyebrows.
“Indeed. I bought the place in Hormundad and personally ripped it out of the ground. I have the documents and paid a lot of gold for it, so unless you manage to get some city guards up here, you only have the right to be my guests,” I explain cheerfully.
“We need city guards?” Oswin asks. “That's a huge pile of bullshit! You are turning the law upside down! How are city guards supposed to get onto this island. Only the military has airships!”
I cross my arms behind my back. “That’s not my problem.”
Zane clears his throat. “That may be so, or it may not. We are no lawyers, but what I am certain of, is that you were caught above a mine for power stones. A single look at the mine below us is enough to tell that you were searching for power stones. Do you know that there is a death sentence on anyone who mines power stones, apart from the military?”
I nod. “We didn't mine power stones. Just bertrandite. There isn't a single power stone on this island. I am willing to swear a magical oath on that.”
They look at each other. Oswin steps forward and offers me his open palm. I place my hand in his and smile. It takes an effort of will not to oppose his truth seeking spell, since I means that I have to allow his energy to touch me.
“Why are you here?”
“To mine bertrandite. That's the white ore with is found together with power stones,” I explain.
“Do you have power stones anywhere on this island or somewhere else?”
“No. I don't have power stones.” I only have the basic elements for aquamarine and power cores, which is a vastly different thing. The people of this world refer to aquamarines as power stones, but only if they are large enough to be manufactured into energy gathering artefacts. So no, I don’t have any of those.
“You aren't using power stones to control this place? And you have no unrefined aquamarines either?”
“No.” Again, the same problem. At the moment, I have none of those. All I have are power cores and their basic elements.
The captain looks baffled. “How are you lifting this island?”
I pull my hand away. “I have no obligation to answer that. Illum is my invention and I don't intend to share it with anyone.”
Zane nods. “Why didn't you ask for the bertrandite at an active mine?”
“Because they would've requested money and asked questions. Why should I pay them if I can get an entire mountain of the stuff for free?” I answer.
He narrows his eyes. “You found a way to use bertrandite like power stones.”
I laugh and offer him my hand. He takes it and casts a truth seeking spell of his own. So I answer, “Bertrandite can't be used like power stones.” Though, it's a component of power stones. “It can be used with various metal alloys, and to create a conductive material which makes it much easier to enchant items.”
Truth seeking spells are tricky. They are very reliable, but no lie detector can help you if you don’t know the correct questions to ask. So far, I was lucky.
Zane lets go of my hand. “Dad, this one is very good at evading questions. She is clearly hiding something, but she didn’t lie. I have a feeling that we are wasting our time.”
I look at the captain and raise an eyebrow. “Dad?”
The captain rolls his eyes. “That's none of your concern. I am afraid that you have to follow us to the capital. The various leaders of the Alliance want to meet with you. You can't stay here in any case. From now on, this is restricted territory.”
“As you wish.” I shrug. “Sitting here and watching others at their work became boring anyway. Do you want to join us for dinner? Sadly, we can't offer much, since you surprised us.”
The captain shakes his head. “I think that it may be for the best if we depart immediately.”
“Oh, but I can take your ships with us. They are so small and cute! It won't be a problem,” I reassure him.
Oswin does an admirable job at not going ballistic. He turns to the men who were left on the other side of my barrier. “Get the Dawn properly anchored and tell my second officer to do nothing without my orders.”
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a communication crystal. “Tide, follow the 'rock' at a respectful distance. Moon, Stay at the mine and search for clues of what happened here. I got an official statement from the owner of this place, but I don't trust her.” He smiles at me, fully aware that I am listening. “I want a full report of everything you find.”
The captain switches off the communication crystal and turns his attention to Fae and Tristen. “And now you guys will explain what you are doing here. The left hand of the garrison at the Eternal Battlefield and the legendary Forest Princess. I thought you gave up on your careers in order to go adventuring.”
“We are. Joyce employed us as, sort of, bodyguards. Though it feels more like doing odd jobs,” Tristen explains.
“You found yourself a very rude and, most likely, dangerous employer,” Zane comments.
Fae tries to defend herself. “We wouldn't work for her if she had any ill will towards the Alliance. Joyce didn't break a single law while we were with her.”
For the first time since the soldiers made their appearance, I get the opportunity to turn my attention to my aides. “So, it seems like you two understated your credentials.” Not that I am surprised. All four adventurers performed far above simple soldiers while they helped me with Illum.