“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
“I still don't understand why you have to go down there,” Kiara complains. Her ears twitch nervously and her eyes wander to the large, perfectly rectangular lake. Zane and Oswin returned to their ship after we had dinner. The next morning, we arrived in Union and our two escorts left us. Now their ship is anchored somewhere down there among dozens of others.
I was a little surprised that the second ship had no problems with keeping up. But if I think about it, the answer should have been obvious. They may be using an inferior power source, but they are also powering a much smaller vehicle with it. The Illum is like a tank which wouldn't be able to move without enormous engines, while their airships are like small and light motorbikes.
I lean against the balustrade of my office's balcony and look down at the city beneath us.
The lake below us is a huge artificial dockyard. Someone clearly invested a lot of effort into creating it. Though, I really don't understand why they design their ships the way they do. There is no logical reason to give all airships such a dual functionality. Maybe the lake doubles as a water source and would be there in any case?
The rest of Union is also neatly planned out. There are clearly distinguishable districts for each race. Union is supposed to be a symbol of the cooperation between the races, but the various districts are a concession to their different cultures. There are round and rocky structures in the dwarven district, normal houses in the shared human/beastman district, tree houses for the elves, and large spiky towers for the demons.
There are some more districts, but compared to the others they are small. I guess that they belong to some of the races which are in the minority. The city looks like a huge, multi-coloured pie chart with a huge building in the middle, which is clearly reserved for the government. It looks like an oversized mosque. In front of it is a large plaza.
I force my attention back to Kiara and smile. “I have to go down there. The government won't rest until I have told them in clear words to leave me alone. Don’t worry, it’s not like I have to deal with a single government. Everyone will be down there, not just human or beastmen nobles.”
“That’s what I am worried about.” Kiara shakes her head. “They will try to force you, blackmail you. You can't dangle something like the Illum in front of a bunch of greedy politicians and expect them to let you go. Each of them will expect a piece of you.”
That's what I want of them. “I actually like your comparison. So, I just have to show them that I am not something that can be split and shared as they please. Let's find out how far their resolve goes.”
I pull a communication crystal out of my pocket and call Dorver. The gnome picks up instantly. “Yes?”
“Are you ready?” I ask.
“Of course, and let me tell you, that flying fortress of yours is just overdoing it. Couldn't you have gone for something smaller?” he answers.
“Would something smaller be enough to intimidate our opponents sufficiently?”
He grumbles. “Probably not. When will you come down? I am already waiting in front of the entrance. The Alliance government isn't used to waiting.”
“Soon.” I hang up and turn my attention to Kiara. “Get the others. We are about to visit the government.” I smile.
The beastwoman rolls her eyes and hurries to gather the others. I use the time to correct my robes. Fae went down to the city and bought me several sets of clothes which make me look more like a ruler and less like the average free citizen. The one I am wearing now is a mix of grey and white with golden embroidery. They have functional trousers, but also a deeply cut skirt over them.
I insisted that I be able to wear the thin dragonbone armour beneath my clothes. My hand wanders beneath my skirt to make sure that the dagger is within easy reach. Hopefully, there will be no fighting today, but I want to be sure.
The barrette which is hiding my new miniature power core is also in place. This one is much weaker than the large ones which power the island. No matter the output, having access to an additional power source is never wrong. It doesn't change the amount of mana I can channel at once, but it mostly eliminates the danger of running out of power.
In my time on Illum, I never stopped training. I must say that half a year of freedom did wonders for my abilities. When I escaped, I hit my limit with lifting my lemu over a mountain ridge. Now, the task seems like a minor issue. My magical muscles went from an atrophied state to what I would call average.
My bodyguards arrive. Kiara, Brian, Tristen and Fae look like they are going to war, but at the same time, they chose their shiniest equipment. “Why can you wear armour and weapons, while I have to look pretty?”
They look at each other, but some silent agreement forbids them from answering me. When it's clear that nobody intends to speak up, I activate the island's controls and instruct it to lift us to the large plaza in the centre of Union. “Lift off!”
“Oh, I hate that!” Brian pales and holds onto Tristen.
We accelerate and drop down to the plaza, but we slow down in time to touch the ground lightly. The plaza is full of people, but our entrance drew much less attention than I expected. There seem to be plenty of strong individuals who can fly around as they please. During my earlier observation I noticed a lot of people take short-cuts through the air in order to get around.
Some are eyeing Illum with suspicion. They are also the ones who paid attention to us. I suppose that they noticed us leaving Illum.
I notice my gnome friend and two large beastmen waiting close to the government's entrance. From up in the sky it didn't look that impressive, but from down here the seat of the Alliance's government looks awe inspiring. The building towers above its neighbours like an eastern palace. The facade is decorated with art of the finest craftsmanship.
We approach the entrance and I introduce Dorver to the others. “Ahem. Allow me to introduce Dorver to you. He is the head of the merchant guild in Hormundad and a sly bastard. He is also on my payroll.”
Dorver smiles. “Thank you for the compliment.”
I gesture at my companions. “Kiara, Tristen, Fae and Brian. For the time being, they're acting as my bodyguards, but they also help me with Illum.”
The gnome nods and gestures for us to follow him. The two large beastmen take their positions next to Dorver. “You are right to travel with guards. I also brought two of my friends. It's unlikely that the government will try to violate our rights, but giving them an opening isn't a good idea. There are many people who would rather kill us now and ask for forgiveness later. That’s why I made sure that some of my friends are listening in on this meeting. It’s good that the various leaders of the Alliance have to meet in public as long as it doesn’t concern military matters.”
We enter an entrance hall where we are greeted by several guards. This causes a stressful situation. For a moment I actually tense up, expecting a battle, but Dorver doesn’t seem to be bothered by the procedure, so I relax. We follow the guards into a second large hall. It’s designed like an amphitheatre with a second level which seems to be reserved for observers. The ground level is empty.
At the other end of the hall are several tables which are facing us. They are occupied by people of various races. There are humans, beastmen, dwarves, demons, gnomes and some others who I can’t name out of the blue.
We are led to a row of seats. The entire setting makes me feel like I'm in a court of law. I take the seat next to Dorver while the others keep standing, playing their role as our guards. To our left, further towards the wall, I notice Zane and Oswin. It seems like they had to give this committee a detailed report of their meeting with me.
A red skinned man with horns on his forehead lowers a set of documents onto his table. He is sitting in the centre of the people who are facing us. The demon looks at us and quickly picks me as the focus of his attention. “Hello Joyce. I am Maximilian, representative of the demon nation. For the sake of making things easier, I’ll be the one you are talking to.”
“Hi.” I smile. That guy actually seems very reasonable. He even has one of those little hammers which judges use to call for order. That’s so retro! This entire setting is exactly as the books described it.
The demon doesn’t seem like he can make sense of my relaxed behaviour. He waits a moment before he speaks. “Do you know why you are here?”
“No,” I answer.
“You are here because you are the owner of Spacial Inc. and of Illum. Some people are concerned that your inventions could damage the economy. Secondly, because Illum violates our regulations on airships. Nobody aside from the military is allowed to have those. And finally, because the humans are laying claim to your property, as you are a member of their race.”
I nod. “I plead innocent in all cases!”
Maximilian almost falls out of his chair. “What? Joyce, do you even understand what we are talking about?”
“Of course! Regarding the spacial chests, I handed the management of this lucrative business over to my good friend Dorver. One of his goals is not to destroy the Alliance’s economy. I am sure that he will allow you to see his business plan on how to become filthy rich without toppling the economy. Then there is the matter of Illum. It’s not an airship. It’s my home. How can anyone just take away what a free citizen created out of her own dreams.”
The demon presses his lips together. “Don’t try to evade the issue with meaningless semantics. You should know that the Consortium is very interested in you. If you are too much trouble, we can simply give you to them.”
“Oh, okay. Blackmail, I understand. I guess that I’ll simply have to give all my property to the human government. Just because they are nobles and asked so nicely for it. Let’s give the humans a flying fortress which out-masses all the fifty seven airships which are currently in your port. I don’t mind aiding my race.”
Everyone starts whispering with each other. They clearly don’t like the idea of having Illum under human control. Before Maximilian can use his hammer to call for order, one of the dwarves stands up to complain. “We can’t crew that fortress with humans! Only the Stonefather knows what they will do with it!”
I try to look conflicted. “Well, I guess that I could give it to the beastmen.” I raise my hands. “Since my experiment, I don’t look entirely human anyway, so I could live with that. They’ll surely be happy to adopt me into their ranks.”
As expected, that causes an uproar among the humans, who already envisioned themselves as the masters of Illum. Everyone starts screaming, trying to drown the others with their voices. Yep, it’s exactly the same as in every democracy I ever encountered. These guys are the perfect examples of politicians.
Maximilian uses his little hammer in an attempt to create order. It takes over a minute to call everyone back to their seats. When the last gnome is back in his chair, the demon returns his attention to me. “Don’t think for a single moment that I don’t understand what you are trying to do.”
I raise my hands, palms out. “My apologies. I just wanted everyone to understand that Illum would shift the balance of power, no matter who gets control of it. And besides, the whole thing is just a large piece of useless rock without me. It's my enchantments that are powering the island; nobody else can control it.
“But I have an idea on how to solve the issue. To be honest, after seeing all of you acting like little children, I am not too keen to take anyone’s side. Why don’t you see me as an independent power? I always dreamt about opening an academy, so if you don’t piss me off, I might even share some knowledge with your younger generations.”