“There is only one important thing in a civilised society. Respect.”
Our time together doesn't last for long. We barely had a few minutes when we are, yet again, rudely interrupted by a woman who practically wrestles Zane out of my hands. There is an expression of outrage on her face and she rudely violates my comfort zone by coming entirely too close. “What do you think you are doing?”
I decide to stick to my dumbfounded expression. Better to feign ignorance than to plain out confess any wrongdoing on my account. I already have a good idea of who I am facing. “I don't know what you are talking about.”
Then I notice Oswin, who was following in the woman's wake. “What do you think you are doing?” The older man sounds like a broken record. His face is red and I am not entirely sure if it is because he is angry, or because he ran through the large hall to get to us.
Ignoring the Barbie-faced woman, I smile and spread my hands to hug Oswin. “Hi! I'll gladly answer your question if you clarify it. As far as I see it, I am having a good time at this party, where people are insulting me and testing my patience at regular intervals.” Not giving Oswin the chance to react, I step next to him and slide his hand around my waist.
The poor man is so overwhelmed that he freezes up and allows it to happen. Zane's expression darkens when he realizes that I just traded him for his father.
“What were you doing with my fiancé? Everyone saw that you were hitting on him!” the woman complains. She is a beauty with white hair, but there is something off about her facial features. They are too symmetrical for a real person and I can't recognize her ethnicity. It seems like she is a blend of every beauty idol that's known to this world. She must have gone through a few very painful cosmetic procedures with professional healers to look like that.
The result of her modifications looks entirely too artificial.
“I was having a friendly chat with Zane. He is in charge of stalking me, totally professional of course. Licensed by the government. So, since I am stuck with someone who has to follow me around, I thought that he can keep me company at the same time. Though, I have heard about your relationship. Now that you are here, you can have him. Oswin will do for me,” I explain.
She gasps at my choice of words, but the meaning seems to penetrate her brain. “Is that true, Zane?”
Zane sighs and nods. “Forgive me for the commotion, Carmen. Joyce threatened to cause a scene if I didn't provide her with an alibi to reject Pavel.”
I nod. “I am great at making scenes. Everyone in this hall seems to think that I am some kind of uncivilised barbarian who can be used to their own advantage. Pavel simply pushed me over the edge.”
“Just do it again and I'll end you.” Carmen squints her eyes at me. For some reason, she isn't cowed in the least. There must be something wrong with her ability to sense danger.
I raise both eyebrows and try to determine if she is serious or if she is bluffing. “You are welcome to try. It's not like one more enemy would make any difference.”
Oswin tries to free himself. “Stop that, Joyce. I am a married man! You seemed like a reasonable person when we visited Illum!”
“I am! And stop struggling, or I'll really cause a scene. How would it look like if I start screaming right now? First the son and then the father! Stop now, and you still have the chance to pass it off as being overly friendly.” I lean onto Oswin’s shoulder.
Oswin stops his attempts at escaping me, finding himself in the same situation as his son. “Bitch! I get what you are trying to do, but you are hurting our reputation. Don't think that we'll forget this.”
“Thanks!” I sigh.
Our little group is disturbed when the crowd suddenly parts and allows another participant to join our conversation. The man is large and has brown, curled hair. He brings his own crowd of cronies who dutifully wall us off from the rest of the guests. “Joyce, I was looking forward to meeting you.” He bows slightly. “I am prince Gregor and I hope that you are having fun at my party.” He looks up at my creation, smiling. “I didn't expect that you would honour us with such a performance.”
I quickly study him. He carries several enchanted items and his whole aura leaks power. It isn't surprising that Zane thought of him as dangerous. “Oh, yes. The greeting wasn't exactly as I expected it, but I had some fun. A certain bug forced me to show him his place. He wouldn't back off otherwise.”
The prince nods. “I know. The Atrachs are known to be very demanding. They always seek more power for the human kingdom. Something which you should also be interested in.”
“It seems like you want to be blunt.” I raise a finger to my lips. “Your point is very close to the truth, but not quite. Are the Atrachs seeking power for the sake of humankind and our position within the Alliance? Or do they seek power for themselves? I am the latter type of person and when I was talking to Pavel, it felt like I was talking to a like-minded soul.”
The prince raises an eyebrow. “Did it?”
I nod enthusiastically. “Yes, it did. Of course, you have no reason to believe me, since I am obviously very friendly with the Biralds.”
The corners of Gregor's lips rise just a little. “Indeed. It seems like you don't care if it's young or old. Have you decided to act as you please, since you weren't satisfied with the way you were treated at this party?”
“So you are aware?” I ask and decide to answer his question as an afterthought. “I am a very free minded person. Why should I limit myself to things like gender and age? If I like someone, I should be allowed to hug them.”
That seems to put Gregor off. “Well, I hope that you'll enjoy the rest of the party. I'll go around and advise the other players in this little scheme to leave you alone. This is still my birthday party and I would be very unhappy if I have to police my own guests.”
I smile and wink at him. “I promise not to kill anyone. Though, I may rip off a leg or an arm if someone offends me. It depends on the situation and on my mood.”
The prince bows again and smiles at Oswin. “Stay with her, since you are already here. It seems like the military wasn't smart when they gave the commander of an airship the order to trail a person at a party. That sounds more like the job of a trained spy.”
Gregor turns around and leaves with his followers right behind him.
Oswin deflates. “That could have gone better.”
I laugh and reach for another glass of fruit juice. “It could have gone so much worse.” At least the prince doesn't seem to belong to the people who are trying to test me. He seemed genuinely annoyed by the fact that some people are using his party to cause trouble. I suppose that not all leaders can be convenient assholes.
Carmen crosses her arms in front of her chest. “What now?” She turns to face Zane. “Will you simply forgive her for playing with your family's honour?”
Zane spreads his hands. “What can we do? You heard the prince. We have to watch her.”
I ignore the bickering couple. They remind of other times. A few unwanted memories of better lives flash through my mind. Following an impulse, I reach for another glass, but this time it's no fruit juice. I really need a little alcohol in order to get through the evening.
Oswin and Zane stay with me. They are good company, but my earlier admissions to Carmen take the whole fun out of the situation. Though, that doesn't mean that she allows Zane anywhere close to me. Time flies by and I eliminate one glass of wine after the other. At some point, I find myself joking with Carmen about the inadequacies of certain types of men.
She passes out not long afterward. We place her unconscious body at our feet and continue drinking. Her silent passing is the only reason that I start paying more attention to my surroundings. A few healing spells prevented me from experiencing the same fate, but in my boozed state I am still a little surprised when I find a man standing next to me at the bar. I didn’t sense him at all.
He is large and pale. His hair is completely black, just like mine, and there is an eerie green fire in his pupils. He does nothing, says nothing, and seems to be content with just standing there, watching me.
“Can I help you?” I ask.
“No.” He shakes his head and answers with a frosty voice.
Plus one point in creepiness! “Okay, then why are you staring at me like that?”
He shrugs. “I just wanted to get a good look at your eyes.”
Okaay. The strangeness is strong with this one. I point at the crowd. “Why don’t you go and entertain yourself? I think that you have seen enough.”
The creep nods. “That’s true.” He turns and walks away, disappearing between the other guests.
I turn my attention to Zane who was watching the exchange. “What was that about?”
He shrugs. “I wouldn’t think too much of it. Mirai diplomats are always a little strange. I think that the pirates always send us the faulty ones. It’s a hidden insult against our politicians, meaning that a brain dead zombie is enough to deal with them.”
“That was a Mirai!?” I point at the man, but realize too late that he is already gone. Damn it! That was a good opportunity to learn something of them. “Why is he even here?”
Zane sighs. He is also struggling due to the long evening. “The Mirai have their emissaries everywhere. There is hardly a large political event without their presence. They are a genuine state, so why shouldn’t they pay the prince their respects? Not that sending a corpse to deliver greetings can be considered polite. That doesn’t mean that there is any importance to it. There are also people from the Sociocrathy and from the Consortium at this party.”
“There you are!” Fae’s voice rattles my tipsy mind and I find her standing behind me, together with Kiara. Damn! I am really not a hundred percent lucid. I didn’t even realize when they snuck up on me.
“Wow! Joyce, you are wasted. We better get you home before you get violent,” Kiara comments, a worried expression on her face.
“Yes, I learned of something very troublesome. We better get you out of here.” Fae takes my hand and pulls me away from Zane.
“But the party is just starting!” I complain, but Fae is insistent and her pulling causes me to sway, which isn’t exactly good for my belly. I retch, but catch myself just in time. “Okay! Wait! I have to dispel this! Can’t have it coming down all at once!”
I turn towards my water sculpture and consider my next step. Activate the control menu of Illum and call up the design program. Consider. Consider. “Well, fuck it!” I select the sculpture and punch a hole into the bottom of the structure.
The large sphere and the network of pipes are rapidly drained through the trunk which is standing inside the pond. The pipes provide a short but steady supply of fresh water and the whole system inside the sphere starts spinning. Well, many people of this world may not recognize it as such, but it reminds me of a huge toilet which is flushed. In which case, the merfolk would be...
Kiara grabs my left arm and Fae grabs my right arm. Together they pull me towards the exit.