“The revolution of the slaves started slow, but it soon became an avalanche which claimed countless lives. And the worst part; none of the revolutionists were responsible.”
“Hold him still! With him moving so much... I can't compare his face with the description,” I order my companions. Two of them are holding the fat merchant down, while a third tries to illuminate his face with a torch. They have him pinned down on his bed. The guy is wriggling like a fat and ugly bug which was turned on its back.
“Why do I have to endure this at my age?” I mumble.
One of my companions doesn’t share my opinion. “Don’t complain, Old Man. It’s better than being worked to death.”
“Let go of me! Guards!” The merchant bucks and actually manages to throw off one of my friends, but the hooded figure throws himself back onto the merchant.
“Don't scream so loud! It hurts my ears. And besides, there is nobody who could help you. All of them are sleeping. One of my comrades slipped a drug into their food,” I explain and step closer. The years weren't kind to me, so my eyesight isn't the best.
“Fucking slaves! What are you doing? Let go of me this instant!” Dan throws his head left and right, clearly not intending to be cooperative.
I press my lips together, showing my displeasure. The merchant, Dan, is actually the underworld crime boss who organizes the secret slave market in Jebli Port. Our master already orchestrated the end of Dan's business, but the man is already in the process of rebuilding his organization. He is a very capable and persistent little weasel. Just the man we need.
“Hold the torch a little closer to his face. My eyesight isn't so good and Dan has a lot of doubles. We have to be certain that it's him.”
The torch approaches his face and Dan shies away from the heat. Again, I raise the sheet of paper and compare the pattern of moles on Dan's cheek with the one on the document. “Okay. Seems like we got the real one.” I reach into my pocket and retrieve the little slave collar which is supposed to go around his wrist.
“What are you doing, you stupid fucks!? Is that a slave collar? Don't you know that slaves can't give orders to other slaves?” He sneers.
I curl down the corners of my lips. “I know, but the person who made these forgot about some of the safety features which are supposed to prevent events like this one. So, would you please stop your futile resistance? It's not like we have any choice about our actions. We do what we have to do.”
My people force Dan to hold out his hand and I put the thin wristband onto him. He twitches and shudders as the magic of the slave collar does something to him. Then he is still. I sigh in relief. Finally, no screaming. “See? That wasn't so bad. Welcome to the resistance. I am sure that you will do everything in your power to help us. Am I right?”
Dan shakes his head, which ends up in a lot of twitching as the collar punishes him for the refusal. After five minutes of trying to deny us, he finally learns his lesson. “I'll do anything I can. Where do we start?”
I lift a heavy chest onto his bed. It's filled with thirty slave collars of the same type. “We need to put these onto some people in high positions. I know that we won't reach the mayor tonight, but maybe some officials and then someone from the city council? We can work our way up from there. The cause needs some people with real influence.”
Dan nods like a docile dog, suddenly very eager to help us. “I know some officials who don't have that much security staff.”
“Good. Another thing you can help us with, is a way to get to the Empire. There are a lot of people who need our help. They’ll be willing soldiers in our campaign.”
Illum is en route to the Alliance capital, Union, where I'll find out if my decision to go there was a terrible mistake. The question is; are the nobles willing to take what I'll offer them freely, or will they try to simply take what's mine.
I place another piece of meat in my mouth and chew happily. “Do you know that you guys are my first guests?”
We are at a long table in my new kitchen. Fae, Kiara, Tristen and Brian look mortified, while Zane and Oswin look abashed. The four guards who I also invited to the table look equally disturbed.
“Is something wrong? I am sorry if fried vegetables and meat aren't to your liking, but you are the ones who showed up unannounced.” I take the salt dispenser to add some taste to my meat.
“No. Please forgive us,” Oswin hurries to apologize. “The food is better than on our ship. Someone who lives on an airship has to be humble in his needs. It's just that we didn't expect you to cook for us.”
“Do you want to say that I can't cook?” I ask.
“You are a very good cook!” Zane compliments me. “Who would've thought that so few ingredients could end up so tasty.”
I can’t help it. It feels like he is lying for my sake, but I still nod. “This place lacks a lot of things, but it'll get better. Going to the capital was already on my list of things to do, so your request to go there isn’t entirely against my plans. I have to hire quite a lot of people, cooks, teachers, guards and other staff. The list is long and tiring. May I ask, why were you visiting the mine?”
Oswin looks at Zane and I notice some sort of silent agreement between them. The captain turns his attention back to me. “It was a normal routine check-up on the critical areas within our territory. Our family is responsible for the land around the mine. We never expected to find you there. Though, there are a lot of airships searching for you all over the Alliance. It doesn't happen every day that a capable mage like you shows up out of nowhere.”
He squints his eyes at me. “That being said, what about your origins?”
I smile and give him my cover story. “I am just a free citizen who lived a humble life up until now. I gave my all to my magical research. It's just my newest breakthrough which drew so much attention. Flying houses are hard to hide. Maybe I should work on turning my island invisible? That may be a nice idea.”
“Hahaha, Joyce is joking,” Fae tries to draw their attention away from me. “Oswin, why don't you tell us what's going on in the world. We were camping in the wilderness for months. You must have some news. For the sake of the good old days.”
The captain takes his glass with fruit juice and looks inside it. He swirls the liquid around and takes a sip before he answers. “There are actually quite a few things. First of all, regarding the Alliance, everyone is talking about the new prodigy here and about her company. All the nobles are afraid that spacial chests for everyone could screw our economy.”
He places the glass back on the table. “The Sociocrathy, maybe you've heard about the large fire which had a lot of similarities with the one in Orwen? The authorities are trying to keep it quiet, but in the wake of the fire, people started disappearing. Nobody has a clue why, but in each case there seems to be a connection to the underworld.
“Then we have the Empire. I guess that you already heard about Orwen? Well, it's confirmed now. Orwen is gone and the desk workers in our strategic department are calling for an offensive war against the Empire. Everyone says that we could take large parts of their territory before they are able to establish a new front-line. They are already planning their offensive.
“There is just one issue they are forgetting. We may be able to advance deeper into the Empire's territory than we have ever been, but without the help of the Sociocrathy we can't hold these lands. We'll end up with a huge territory which we can't pacify. Without a large scale mobilization we simply don't have the means to do so.”
Zane grunts. “Given the political situation, the government won't approve any of that. Their attention is on Joyce and the powder keg in the Sociocrathy. They are denying it, but there is definitely something going on over there.”
Oswin nods. “And finally there are the Mirai. I got the message that, two weeks ago, they attacked Batis Bay with a sizeable part of their fleet. They wiped out the city down to the last peasant. Of course, the Empire tried to retaliate with their gathered fleet, but the Mirai departed before the Empire’s military arrived. Now they have their hands full with clearing out all the undead which the Mirai left behind. Apparently, the pirates found it funny to raise a few skeleton necromancers and lichs as a goodbye present.”
Brian shakes his head. “I am sorry, but that sounds so wrong. Why would the Mirai do something like that? They've held themselves back for generations. And why did they choose the Empire? Shouldn't they have far more reason to attack the Sociocrathy? Are you sure that the information was trustworthy?”
Zane shrugs. “The information is flooding in through all the channels which we have in place. All over the Empire. It was apparently quite the public event. The Mirai intentionally allowed some of Batis Bays's citizens to escape in order to spread fear and chaos. That's why it's no problem to tell you this, it'll be public knowledge by the time at which we arrive in Union.”
“The only explanation I have is that the Empire had something to keep the Mirai at bay. I had always wondered why the Mirai were holding back when it came to the Empire's shipping lines. They've always been in a perfect position to lock down most of the Empire's shipments. They must’ve had something to blackmail the Mirai. Now, that something is gone and the pirates decided to unleash their wrath on the Empire,” Oswin explains.
Zane's expression turns disgusted. “No matter the reason, killing civilians is wrong. If we believe the reports, the Mirai didn't attack Batis Bay for riches, land or military reasons. Their only purpose was to get as many kills as possible, while having enough witnesses to tell the tale.”
Oswin raises a finger. “Now, now. Don't jump to conclusions. Batis Bay was the Empire's closest port to their island. If the Empire had decided to stage another campaign against them, they would've gathered their fleet there. You can't say that Batis Bay was an entirely random target.”
The captain sighs and looks at me. “What worries me more is that so many things are happening at once. Decades passed since we established the Eternal Battlefield with our enemies. It was a convenient state of affairs which kept both nations from slipping into total war. Now, after Orwen's fall, all the pieces on the gameboard are starting to move. It's worrying me.”
“I only claim responsibility for my island and the ruckus it causes within the Alliance. It's hardly my fault that the Empire and the Sociocrathy have their own problems.” With my food gone, I place the fork on my plate, then I contemplate the new information.
I certainly did nothing to rile up the Mirai. Their actions don't fit into my plans. I'll have to find out what's going on with those pirates. The fact that I underestimated their importance is coming back to bite me. My agents will hardly reach the Mirai in time to make a difference.