“How to catch a fairy? With a lot of honey.”
“This is a huge pile of bullshit!” I complain and browse through the documents. Apparently, the Alliance decided that a verbal agreement alone isn't good enough. They sent me a huge pile of documents. I am no legal expert, but I am very sure that I spotted at least one little trap in each of them. There is no way that I'll sign such agreements, even if one of them turns out to be beneficial for me.
Dorver is sitting across from me. He is a great help in pointing out various issues with the contracts. The gnome tears up another sheet of papers. “I am very sure that they are just trying their luck. These are certainly not the standard contracts to define relationships between countries. I suggest that we throw all of these out of the window and inform the Alliance that their demands are unacceptable. And if they have a problem with it, then they have to live with the verbal agreement which we made at the meeting.”
He picks up another sheet of paper and scowls. “There is certainly no way that we would want to sign a mutual defence agreement with the Alliance. It's a sure way to draw us into the coming war with the Empire.”
I furrow my forehead. “I thought that the Alliance's leaders are stalling for more time?”
The gnome nods. “They are, but the pro-war faction is getting stronger by the day. It's just a question of time until they march. The people who upheld the status quo managed to do so because Orwen was an insurmountable obstacle. It was the rallying point for over a hundred thousand soldiers and a whole army of very skilled mages.”
He smiles weakly and crushes the contract in his hands. “If the Alliance had tried to take the region beyond the eternal battlefield, then they would have needed to conquer Orwen. Only a total mobilization of all of the Alliance's forces would've had a chance to succeed at such a task. Let’s assume that they indeed managed to conquer Orwen. Then they would've lost so many troops that taking the rest of the Empire would've been impossible.”
His expression darkens. “But now, the city and its inhabitants are gone. It means that there is no good argument for stalling the war efforts. Another issue is that it was confirmed that the same spell which destroyed Orwen is now being used in the Sociocrathy. On a lower scale, but it's the same spell. Some are saying that the Empire developed a new weapon of mass destruction, but it got unleashed accidentally. Now they are using the slaves who they exported to the Sociocrathy to test the final stage of their weapon.”
I shake my head. “Why would anyone think that? The Empire already has trouble with the Mirai and the Alliance. Didn't the Sociocrathy keep their feet still? It makes no sense to add a third front.”
Dorver raises his finger. “That's true, but the Sociocrathy will hardly do anything against the Empire unless the Empire outright invades the Sociocrathy. They are trying to hide it, but they have a full-fledged rebellion on their hands. The insurrectionists call themselves the Resistance and they are well organized. The Sociocrathy won't be able to deal with them anytime soon.”
“Hah...” I bit my lower lip. Then it's a good thing that the Sociocrathy will soon have even more problems. My plans are slowly coming to fruition. “As matters stand, we can't change that. Let's proceed with our plans. Our next destination is the Sociocrathy. When we are finished with hiring people, I want to go to the World Assembly. It's in a few weeks and Illum can't teleport.” I have to add that functionality.
I wait for a while, but it seems like Dorver has nothing to add. “If that's all, you are excused.”
The gnome bows and takes his leave.
I roll my shoulders and call up Illum's control menu. A video display pops up in front of me, showing a small figure sneaking around between the inhabitants of my island. Three days after her intrusion, the vermin is still on the island. So far, she hasn't done anything harmful. It's fascinating how she managed to slip through the barrier which surrounds Illum. Admittedly, the barrier doesn't stop everything. Objects with little kinetic energy must be allowed to pass through.
I watch as the nimble figure darts though between a worker’s legs and avoids being stepped on by a guard who didn't even notice the mouse-sized creature.
When she trespassed, Illum confused the little fairy with a bird. I nonetheless got informed of the breach because she had a strong magical signature. Additionally, she has a most peculiar ability. It seems like she is able to change her size on a whim, totally ignoring conservation of energy and mass.
Physics states that energy and mass can't be destroyed. Energy can only be converted from one form to another. Yet, Illum's security system made recordings of the fairy as she increased in size, including her entire equipment. She can also shrink as she needs to. Where does she put her mass? According to my understanding, she would have to unleash incredible amounts of energy in order to shrink even a millimetre in size. It's a mystery.
At least her ability explains how she got into that ventilation shaft.
She is still busy with staking out the area. I suppose that the assassin is searching for the best way to get a shot at me.
I huff and switch to a map of the world, then I insert new coordinates. Laos it is! For the moment, I am done with Union City and the Alliance. Dorver has already been hiring people and a lot of potential candidates are waiting to be picked up.
With my work done, I get up and walk onto the balcony. Illum is starting to move, which creates a lot of stress down in the airship harbour. An alarm shrills and the people at the harbour start running around like riled up ants.
But the scene only 'looks' like madness. A few seconds later, I grudgingly have to admit that there is a plan beneath the chaos. Some people are boarding ships, while others get equipment out of the way. A minute later, I notice three airships rising from the harbour. They immediately turn to follow Illum, which should be no problem for them with their higher speed.
I reach for the spyglass which has a permanent spot on the balustrade. Then I use it to search for Zane. I indeed find him on the leading ship. He is using the large telescope to spy on me, so I wave to mock him. Sadly, he doesn't react. What a boring guy.
“You wanted to see me?” I enter Joyce's office. She is sitting at her desk and looks occupied. I noticed that she started working on several books about magic and science, as she called it. According to her, it's the knowledge of how the world around us works.
Joyce looks up and smiles. “Oh, yes! I have a job for you.” She reaches beneath her desk and retrieves something from the drawer beneath it.
Then she stands up and gestures for me to come closer, so I join her in the left corner of the room. She offers me a stick with a circular wooden attachment at the end of it. Between the wooden construction is a set of taut strings. “Is that yet another invention of yours? What is it? Something like a totem?”
Joyce tilts her head and looks at me as if I am an idiot. “I call it the reinforced flyswatter.”
I feel my face turning red, but Joyce doesn't give me a chance to reply. She pushes me into the corner of the room and whispers. “I need you in your function as my bodyguard.” She points at the small ventilation vent above us. “The assassin who took a shot at me was a fairy, and right now, she is crawling through the ventilation system. She seems to like that.”
I look at the strange weapon. “Are you serious? What about the others?”
Joyce places a finger on her lips. “They are already positioned at other possible exits.”
This is a bad joke. This woman wants to take revenge on me... for something. “But a stick? Why not use magic? Or one of your neat devices? And a fairy? Are you sure? They are very rare.”
“This is a case where simple things work best. I don't want you to kill her. I spelled this corner with a very strong glamour. As long as you don't move, she won't notice you. Just swat her a few times until she gives up. I expect her to be a resilient bug.” Joyce walks back into the centre of the room and calls up the interface with which she controls Illum.
It takes a few minutes of silent waiting. I am about to fall asleep when suddenly, the mad woman speaks out loudly, “I am so glad that you are doing a good job, but I really need a little sleep. Could we meet tomorrow at the same time?”
She walks over to the office's entrance, then she opens the door and shuts it with a loud 'bang'. After sighing loudly, she walks up the stairs to her private quarters.
Seriously? I have to roll my eyes. Even if there is a fairy assassin, everyone would notice that something is wrong with such bad acting. Not expecting anything to happen, I wait anyway. A minute later, to my utter surprise, something scratches inside the ventilation shaft.
For two endless minutes, nothing happens. Then the mesh which covers the shaft is pulled to the side and a small head peeks out. It’s really a fairy and the damned thing somehow managed to turn the metal mesh into something like rubbery foam which can be easily destroyed.
The fairy looks around. Her eyes rest on me only for a few seconds before she looks away. She studies the stairway which leads to Joyce’s quarters. Then her attention returns to my corner. The little critter furrows her forehead and looks directly into my eyes. After a while, her expression relaxes and the pulls the mesh to the side.
Stepping out of the ventilation shaft, she spreads her four translucent wings which begin to buzz. She is tiny, just as big as my hand. Seeing my opportunity escaping, I jump forward and swat at her.
The fairy falls to the ground, losing the crossbow which was attached to her back. I kick the little weapon away and swat at her again and again while she tries to crawl away. “Here! I have her!”
Squealing in rage, the little murderer draws a sword. Well, it isn’t really a sword. More like a toothpick. But there is some green substance dripping from it. The green goo must be poison. She hacks at my useless weapon, cutting the strings.
I have to jump backwards when she almost manages to sting my wrist. I curse and drop the weapon to draw my daggers. Joyce can’t blame me for her stupid plan. I certainly don’t want to test that poison.
The fairy buzzes towards me and suddenly two drinking glasses become visible and slam together with a ‘clang!’, trapping the fairy.
Someone chuckles and Joyce turns visible, laughing. Her body slowly fades into existence, starting with her hands. The fairy rampages inside the improvised prison, but she can’t break out. Joyce shakes her head. “I am so sorry, but I had to do that!” Then she resumes laughing.
I am at a loss for words. Firstly, because I allowed myself to be put into this situation in the first place. Secondly, because Joyce’s expression and her amusement seem absolutely genuine for the first time since I met her.
What worries me is Joyce's behaviour. What should I think of a person who is so carefree in such a dangerous situation?