“I seldom deal in symbolisms; if there be hidden meanings in my verse, they are there without my knowledge.”
“I wonder what I should do with her?” I ask and shake the two glasses with the fairy inside. The little creature roars, which is nothing more than a cute shriek to me. She drums her fists against the glass, making a point of her feelings.
This little bugger has mental issues.
When that doesn't yield the expected result, she resorts to magic. There is a flash of light and for a moment her prison is as bright as a flashlight. I have to close my eyes and look away. It reminds me of a really old camera. When I look back, her confinement is filled with smoke.
“Damn! Did she torch herself?” I open her prison just a little bit and blow into the slit between the glasses to clear the smoke.
Soon enough, the little critter is revealed. She coughs and looks a little singed, but otherwise she seems to be fine, so I close her prison again. Her next attempt at escape follows immediately. She starts growing until her frame fills the entire glass, but that's as far as it goes. Seeing her red and angered face pressed against the glass is fantastic.
“Don't bother. The glass is merely a focus point for one of Illum's force fields. The power of my entire island is reinforcing this glass. There is no way that you will get away,” I explain calmly.
“What do you intend to do with me?” the fairy squeaks. She shrinks until being inside the glass doesn't look too uncomfortable for her.
“Hmmm.” I wet my lips and look at Fae. “Is it true that fairies lose their magic if you rip out their wings?”
“How should I know!? A- Anyway! We can't do that to a prisoner!” The elf looks at me, horrified.
My prisoner, realizing that I didn't make a joke, starts squealing in an unknown language. Her voice has a high pitch and is really aggravating.
I grumble. “Oh, fine. I guess that I can always use her as a paperweight. I always wanted a pet.” Turning, I walk over to my desk and place the prison on a stack of documents.
“Shouldn't we interrogate her?” Fae asks.
“There is no real need. I have many enemies, but there aren't that many who have a reason to assassinate me. High on the list of suspects are the Consortium and the Empire. Though, in this case, I bet on the Consortium. They are strangely silent, even though I took away a big part of their income. Everyone else gains far more from me being alive. They want Illum's secret, so they won't just kill me before they get it,” I explain. “Oh, they would surely go for blackmail, extortion, spying… But nothing directly lethal.”
“If you let me go, I'll tell you everything I know!” the fairy offers.
I pretend to think about it, but then I shake my head. “It will be far more interesting to find out how your magic works. Do you realize that your ability violates several laws of physics?” I return my attention to the little crossbow. A few steps bring me to where it lies on the ground, so I pick it up. It's indeed a miniature version of the real thing.
“Fascinating! It seems like the enchantments on it shrunk as well.” That's so cool. The fairy's ability is extremely powerful. “I might just keep you to shrink enchanted items for me.” I could build a power core and have the fairy shrink it. Depending on her limits, I might even be able to create a real CPU. That would solve all my problems with computation power overnight.
Fae raises a hand, interrupting me. “Maybe I should inform you that fairies are on the list of endangered races. We would get problems with the Alliance and the Sociocrathy if we harm her.”
There is something like that? “Does that mean that I can't punish her as a murderer?”
Fae shifts her weight from one foot to the other. “No. It just means that we can't kill her.”
“I promise that I'll keep her heart beating, no matter what.” I return with the crossbow to my office table and sit down. Then I allow my mind to wander. “You mentioned that they are endangered. Does that mean that it will be hard to find a male for her? I have a few plans for that shrinking ability, but having only one fairy sucks. Do they have reproduction issues? What do I need to feed her?”
The fairy presses her face against the glass, staring at Fae. “You can help me, right? This woman is obviously mad! She threatened to rip out my wings and now she plans to use me as breeding stock! Help me!”
Fae looks a little guilty. After all, the fairy looks very cute. But then Fae's eyes fall onto the poisoned toothpick. “No. I think that we all are a lot safer if you stay in there.”
With one crisis averted, the next one doesn't keep us waiting. The office door opens and Tristen enters the room. “You have to come fast! Something is happening with the Alliance airships!” He runs back outside, expecting us to follow.
I rise and leave the squealing fairy on my desk. She won't go anywhere without my permission. The same energy field which reinforces the two glasses also keeps them sealed together. Only gas molecules are allowed in or out. I simply have to assume that there is a limit to the fairy's abilities. It would be very unreasonable if she is able to shrink to the size of an atom while keeping all her mental faculties.
We follow Tristen to an observation platform above my abode. He seems to be very excited about the three airships which are following us. “Do you see that!?”
I watch the ships for a while, but all I notice is that they are manoeuvring around like maniacs. The lead ship is flying in a wavy line, while the other two ships are trying to get close. “Do they have some kind of manoeuvre? Or is the guy at the helm drunk?”
Tristen shakes his head. “They didn't tell us anything. But it's strange, the watchman who informed me of their behaviour said that the other two ships closed in on their lead and tried to board them. Then the Dawn started evasion manoeuvres.”
“Maybe they are damaged? We could offer to help,” Fae suggests.
Her idea is proven wrong by a thundering explosion which shakes the Dawn pretty badly, but a blue barrier around the ship seems to mitigate the damage. I step forward and take one of the binoculars which are hanging from the balustrade. I have several of them since this platform is intended for me and my people.
“What the fuck are they doing?” Some sort of internal battle within the Alliance?
“They are firing on each other! We have to do something.” Tristen proclaims.
I stop him. “We have to do nothing. Illum was recognized as an independent state. If we interfere and take sides, they are able to construe our actions as an attack on an alliance airship. I wouldn't be too surprised if they are doing this intentionally.”
“Do we have a way to contact them?” Fae asks.
“Keep manoeuvring! Don't allow them to line up their spell projectors!” Oswin shouts. “Damn! Zane, is there any way for us to execute the plan earlier?”
I study the map of the region, but there is simply no way to escape the damned traitors. The two other ships are firmly in the hands of Atrach loyalists. Not only did they exchange our captains with theirs, they also switched enough of the command crew to turn the entire vessel against us.
If Joyce had waited just a day longer, we would’ve been ready to deal with them on our own.
We expected their attack and made contingency plans, but we never anticipated them to strike so early and in such a straightforward manner. We firmly believed that they would wait until we are farther away from any form of civilisation. It seems like the other side intends to take us down and deal with potential witnesses afterwards. They certainly have the capabilities to bombard and kill any random caravan or group of adventurers in the area.
Maybe that was their plan all along. They will simply say that we went rogue and tried to conspire with Illum. “There is no other way. We have to fight them!”
I slam my fist onto the table with the map. There is only forest in this area. No large geologic formations nearby. A few more hours and we would've reached the canyons between the Alliance and the Sociocrathy. We could've used those obstructions to slip away. I fully expected that our enemies recognized the area as an ideal opportunity to strike at us. Therefore, they should’ve waited.
Of course, Dad would've been forced to claim that our communication crystals got damaged. Then we would've returned to base and feigned ignorance.
Another fireball impacts our aft shields and the Dawn rocks like a boat on the sea. Two of our aft spell projectors activate and one of our persecutors is shaken by two simultaneous explosions. It certainly paid off to double check all the runes and enchantments on the ship. “We have to take them down and claim that they are the traitors.”
Oswin shakes his head. “That will be hard. They have two ships and we are alone.”
“Why are you fighting each other?”
The female voice startles me and I look up. Sure enough, one of Joyce’s illusion screens is floating right above the table. Her face fills the screen.
“That’s a neat trick,” I comment.
She shrugs. “It’s a good way to spy on people, at least on someone who is within line of sight. So, why are you fighting each other?”
The ship rocks for the third time. Oswin has to hold onto the balustrade to keep himself from falling. “What does it look like? Your stupid games caused our family to lose prestige! Now our enemies are trying to finish us off. Show some decency and help us out.”
“I am afraid that I can’t do that. It would be a direct attack on the Alliance.” She squints her eyes. “There is a high possibility that this is just a big ruse which was created to pull me into your conflicts. I am afraid that I can’t help you. We won’t act without a direct attack on Illum.”
My father can’t take it any longer and explodes. “You little bitch! Can’t you see that all of this is happening because of you!?”
The black haired beauty doesn’t budge. “I am afraid that Illum can’t take sides in a conflict which is clearly between two factions of the Alliance.”
“Are you unwilling to take even a little responsibility? How long do you think our barriers will hold against two opponents? We are just holding out because they have to chase us and waste energy on their engines!” My father continues to rant, but to no avail. He and I know that this can only end in a traditional shoot-out. We are simply too close to our enemies.
Joyce keeps her cool and ignores Dad’s emotional outbreak. “I am sorry, but I can’t knowingly involve Illum in your conflict. There is simply too much at stake. Illum will only act in self-defence.”
They continue to argue, but I suddenly understand why Joyce sounds like a broken record. She is trying to tell us something without being too obvious. Is she afraid that we have spies on our ship? No, she just doesn’t want us to say that her interference was arranged. It can’t be helped.
“Stop arguing, Dad. There is no other choice but to fight. Maybe we can damage both ships enough to get away.” I walk over to the officer at the helm and take control of the ship.
In just that moment, the officer at the lookout shouts, “Three more ships, seven o’clock! Directly from the sun.”
I curse. That would be all the ships the Atrachs have. Seems like they planned for something big. Are they going to try their luck with Illum once we are down? “Ready all weapons and give me as much speed as possible. Barriers are a secondary priority.”
Spinning the wheel, I turn us directly towards the ship which is commanded by Perilous. That brings us directly into the line of fire of Legit’s ship. “Full acceleration!” It can’t be helped. I need a little mayhem for this to work.
“Are you mad!? What are you doing?” Oswin complains, but we are committed. There is no turning back.
For a moment, it looks like our barriers hold, but then the nose of the Dawn explodes in a cloud of flames and splinters. When my sight clears, I see the other ship already almost too close. I pull the helm towards me and the Dawn rises just enough to scrape a part of the other ship’s deck away, including their bridge. I wince at the thought of killing fellow soldiers. Not everyone on that ship is to blame.
Spinning the wheel into the other direction, I bring us between the now driverless ship and Illum, on a collision course with Legit’s ship.
We are now being pounded from two sides and it’s just a question of seconds until our shields are going to fail. But Legit, having already seen that I am willing to ram his ship, orders to evade us. That doesn’t change the fact that we are still being shot at, but it also clears the way towards Illum.
I push the helm forward so that we pass beneath Legit’s ship. By doing that, I use the blind spot of his spell projectors to buy our barrier a few direly needed seconds to recharge.
The sudden change in course causes a few of Perilous’s attack spells to miss. They travel further and impact Illum while I scrape the tops of a few trees with Dawn’s hull.
I look up just in time to see Illum’s barriers flare up. The light is a lighter blue than ours, but their barrier seems to have no problems with the attack spells. In answer, dozens of hidden hatches in Illum’s side slide open. Then there are several loud ‘thuds’. I have heard a similar sound when an expert force mage used his magic to accelerate a little steel ball beyond the speed of sound.
Several white trails connect Illum and Perilous’s ship. His barriers flare, instantly turning his whole ship into a large globe of blue light. Then the barrier winks out of existence and the whole ship evaporates in a cloud of splinters.
There is no explosion. Joyce is just throwing rocks at speeds high enough to penetrate the hull! A single shell wouldn’t be a problem, but Illum is pumping out an incredible amount of them. At these numbers, the target is quickly turned into a hell of shrapnel and ricochets.
Suddenly, the ship’s levitation magic deactivates and the whole thing falls like a rock. It disappears somewhere beneath my line of sight.
My attention returns to my own problems when the side of our ship explodes into flames. Legit’s ship is still undamaged and it seems like they got past our barrier. I push the helm forward and the cracking of trees becomes louder.
“What are you doing?” Oswin calls out.
“I am taking us out of the fight. Prepare to abandon ship!” With that, the Dawn breaks through the trees. I hug the helm and prepare myself for a hard crash.