“If democracy is good for something, then it's giving politicians the chance to blame others for their failures.”
“Fuuck!” I scream out and shove a finger into the pulsing wound on my neck. The last thing I want is to lose consciousness and bleed out like a slaughtered pig. I messed this one up. There is no other way to put it.
“Joyce!” Tristen appears in my field of view. He presses his hand onto the wound to aide my crude attempt at first aide.
My tattoo is flaring brightly, channelling all available energy into a healing spell. In order to increase the effectiveness, I cast a more focused regeneration spell on the wound in my neck and slowly pull my finger out as the flesh melds back together. It's a slow and tedious process.
The people in the room are screaming and running around like frightened chickens. It's clear that this wasn't an officially sanctioned attack, though the origin could still lie within the alliance.
I noticed the hidden person a while ago. I already was on high alert and a little fluctuation of energy drew my attention. Sadly, I refused to act on the uninvited guest. For all I knew, it could've been just a spy. Even in case it was an assassin, I was willing to take the risk. The negotiations were going in my favour and I didn't want to spoil everything by introducing a new variable. Namely, by alerting everyone to the fact that someone was snooping around where he didn't belong.
It could’ve changed the outcome of the vote.
In my pride, I fell victim to my confidence. Of course I expected an attack and was looking out for it. The moment I sensed magic from the ventilation shaft, I raised all my shields, expecting it to be enough. It turns out that I vastly underestimated the abilities of my opponents.
That's the second time this happened to me. I have to make sure that it will be the last. The magic of this world shouldn't be underestimated just because they went down a different path.
“Are you okay?” Fae leans over me and tries to assist me with healing magic, but I push her hand away.
“I'll be fine. My armour blocked the shrapnel to my chest.” The projectile had to break through two of my barriers and was additionally slowed down by my reinforced hand, the metal shards didn't have enough kinetic force to pierce the dragonbone.
I am on my back and still in the chair. It tilted backwards when the shards transferred their energy to my armour. Wriggling, I get into a sitting position and spread blood all over the place. My mangled hand is doing a very good job at that.
Turning around, I find Kiara and one of Dorver's guards on the ground behind me. The beastwoman is sitting upright and holding her thigh, while the guard is on his back and pressing a hand to his side. They clearly took what glanced off my armour, but their condition isn't life threatening.
I reach out and cast regeneration on both of them, staunching their pain. They can be properly treated when we are back on Illum.
“You are alive!” Dorver proclaims loudly. He is still in his chair and his pupils are wide, a sign of shock. It's clear that the gnome isn't a fighter.
“I have seen better days,” I growl and try to get up, but that's easier said than done without a free hand. I slip and land back on my ass. Though, the wound in my neck is almost closed. I channel all my available power into healing magic, but it takes time to mend flesh. “Can someone look for my fingers? It would be hard to regenerate them as a whole.”
Then I dare to take a closer look at my hand. The healing magic numbed the pain. All I feel is a very annoying tingling sensation. I still have my thumb and my pinky. Most of the flesh between them is gone, but the bones are still there. That's actually quite the surprise. It seems like the spell which changed my hands did a little more than to alter my fingernails. Upon a second thought, that's actually quite plausible. Wouldn't my fingernails just rip out of their sockets if they weren't attached to something of similar strength?
Which brings me back to long forgotten worries. I didn't forget to monitor any physical change to my hands and there was none. But what if the altering effect jumped from my fingernails to my bones and continues to alter me like cancer? That's a disturbing thought. The next thing I'll do when I get back to Illum, is to expose myself to a complete magical negation field. I should do that anyway, now that I have the possibility. Who knows what additional effects the assassin's attack might have.
Fae presents me three fingers.
I stare for a small eternity at the three pieces of meat. It takes me a few moments to realize that I am supposed to do something with them. Well, seems like the loss of blood is taking its toll. “Help me up!” The pain-killing effect of my regeneration spell is probably not helping in keeping a clear head.
Tristen and Brian reach beneath my armpits and pull me to my feet. The people around us are still in panic mode, so I guess that not more than a few seconds have passed.
Brian lets go of me in order to take care of Kiara. I flatten my mangled hand on the table and place the three fingers where they are supposed to be.
Fae touches my shoulder and rearranges the order. “I doubt that you want your index finger as your new middle finger.”
I grin like a maniac. “Each time I point at someone, I would give them the finger. We would be the only ones who are in on the joke.”
“I think that you would prefer your hand in perfect condition,” Tristen comments.
“By the way, why aren't you freaked out about this? Someone just tried to kill me,” I retort and attach my fingers to the bones on my hand. The shredded muscles and tendons are already rearranging themselves to reconnect the lost appendages. Ouch, that will take a while to heal, but at least the fingers won’t fall off.
“Oh, don't worry. I am plenty freaked out. Actually, I am starting to think that you should pay us more. And regarding your appearance, you looked worse when the goblin war-drum mashed you up,” Tristen states.
“I saw slimes which looked better,” Fae continues. “And don’t think that we didn’t expect much worse than this when we accompanied you.”
Oh, the wondrous effects of healing magic in a medieval society. They aren't even awed by my regeneration magic. Though, I'll have to eat something in order to restore the lost mass. My tattoo can't do anything about the lost body mass, so it has to take the molecules from fat tissue.
“You are alright?” Oswin and Zane join our conversation from across the table.
I must admit that I completely forgot about the two of them. “Count me among the living.”
The two soldiers carry worried expressions, but the reason for their concern stays a mystery. Maximilian has reinstated something akin to order. It seems like the perfect opportunity to announce my continued existence. “It seems like the Alliance isn't able to ensure the safety of their own government. What would you have done if that assassin had been after one of you?”
Maximilian's eyes widen slightly and his nostrils flare. “Joyce, you are alive and well, as it seems.”
“The 'well' is overdoing it. I have felt better!” This is a good chance to complain. They already acknowledged my independence.
Dorver decides to end this farce. The gnome recovered from his shock. He jumps onto the table next to me. “I think that, for the moment, there is nothing more to discuss. We'll leave and rest until you manage to close your security leak. The head of a state, though it be small, was just attacked within the Alliance's halls!”
The demon closes his eyes. It looks like he is considering to smash his horned forehead into his table. “Retreat for now. We'll take care of this mess. Everything else can be handled via a dispatch.”
Tristen swings me around and our group retreats. I make sure to wave Maximilian goodbye, using the hand which is more bone than flesh. We'll hold him to his word. I certainly won't set foot into a city which is occupied by an assassin with barrier piercing ammunition.
My followers walk fast, but they have enough composure not to run. As soon as we are out of the building, I activate the interface and order the Illum to retrieve us. This includes Dorver and his two guards.
“Were you serious when you said that the Illum is useless without you?” Fae asks with a concerned voice.
“Yes, but don't worry. There would be plenty of time for you to evacuate the people,” I reply.
We land on my office's balcony and they help me inside. Now that I am back on Illum, it feels like I can finally relax. “There are only two things I want right now: food and sleep.”
It goes without question that I get my wishes.
I watch as Joyce is dragged away by her guards. The woman clearly knew about our guest, otherwise she wouldn't have been able to react so quickly. I didn't notice the assassin from my position, but that's probably why we were given the seats farthest to the left. I couldn't see the ventilation shaft from there.
My eyes wander to the shaft, which is currently being inspected by several guards. So far, they haven't reported back, which means that the assassin got away.
Joyce and her behaviour are an unpleasant mystery to me. Her origin story is clearly fake and she deals with the representatives of the races as if they are nothing compared to her.
This attack poses a considerable loss in reputation for the Alliance. It would've been a different matter if Joyce hadn't been elevated to something akin to a ruler who governs over her own estate. The Murian Sociocrathy and the Consortium will use the chance to question our competence.
Someone will have to take responsibility for this fiasco. And who is a better scapegoat than two highly decorated officers of the army, who happened to be right next to the victim? There is obviously no way that the Alliance's security was lacking. If nothing else, this attack poses quite a loss of reputation for our family.
My father spews a few obscenities which I didn't expect him to know. It's clear that similar thoughts are going through his mind. “Son, who do you think has the influence to position us right here when something so unfortunate happens? Now I am not surprised that we were ordered to deviate from our flight plan. Without that order, one of them would have found the Illum.”
I don't answer, but my eyes flick to the human representative. The Atrachs will not waste this chance to make it look like we sat idly by and watched while the attack happened. Not to mention that we had to disarm our artefacts before we entered the hall. “I don't think that they can pin it on us, but the honoured representative for our king doesn't look as if he just lost this argument on all fronts.”
“No, not in front of this congregation, but that won't stop him from making us look bad. He will rant to the king,” Oswin whispers into my ear. “This was a setup.”
Maximilian clears his throat and points his hammer at us. “Captain Oswin Birald, I expect you to follow the Illum wherever she goes. Keep us updated on that thing's position at all times.”
We bow and hurry out of the room. Neither of us is happy with our new task. The Illum and Joyce are unpredictable. There are simply too many ways in which this can go wrong, especially since we have a lot of enemies among the human factions. I am sure that the Atrachs would be very happy to see us fail. Our position within the hierarchy of nobles is already insecure as it is.