“What separates a great leader from others, is his ability to react to a twist of fate.”
I guide Zane into my office. The room is well lit by the large windowfront behind my desk. Bringing Zane’s remaining crew to Illum wasn’t a problem. Not all of them will stay, but none of them had the desire to be left alone in the wilderness. They were even so nice as to rig the power stones for self-destruction, which created two really nice craters in the forest below us.
Zane looks a little lost, so I gesture for him to take a seat and place myself in my office chair.
He sits down and looks at me with a stern expression. It’s clear that he isn’t willing to trust me entirely. His body language says that he would rather be somewhere else. Maybe it’s because his father is in our hospital and Zane isn’t used to making decisions. His old man’s leg was shattered pretty badly. It will take a while for the healers to get it back to a working condition.
The problem with broken bones is that a simple regeneration spell won’t heal the leg properly. The bones might fuse incorrectly, so someone with experience and knowledge has to set them before the leg can be healed. Depending on the fracture, that process can take a while.
I slide closer to my office table. “Let’s talk business. I am not opposed to taking you in, but if you join me, you will have to sign the same contract as everyone else. At least those of you who are working directly for me. Children and relatives who join you don’t have to sign a contract, but they don’t get to work in important areas of the island.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Are there important areas?”
I nod, but I have no intention to explain further. “There will be no further information without a contract.”
Zane snorts. “My father will have fits. Signing contracts, like any worker from the street… That won’t sit well with him. He is very traditional in that regard.”
I search through my documents and place one of the unused contracts in front of him. “You don’t have the same issues?”
He shakes his head and takes a pen, then he looks at the contract. “I do not. It’s understandable that you can’t trust us blindly. A contract is the best way to safeguard yourself. Hm. This contract looks like it’s okay. The standard stuff.” His eyes fall onto the glass which is on my stack of unread documents and his hand freezes. He was one moment away from signing the contract.
“Is that a fairy?”
Oh, shit. I completely forgot about her. She is sleeping and curled up at the bottom of her glass prison. If I hadn’t seen her anger management issues, I would say that she is cute. “Yes, indeed. That’s my new pet.”
Zane’s expression turns disgusted. “Fairies are no pets! They are people like us.”
I raise both eyebrows. There are his morals again. “Allow me to rephrase that. Let me introduce you to the assassin who tried to kill me in front of the Alliance Council. She tried a second time when the trouble with you started. At the moment, her fate is undecided, so I am keeping her here, imprisoned.”
He stares at the fairy, a blank expression on his face. It looks like doesn’t believe me, but then he nods. “That explains a lot. We wondered how the assassin managed to get through the ventilation system. In some places, the shaft was simply too tight, even for the smaller races.”
“She seems to like confined spaces, but let’s return to the matter at hand. You mentioned fifty people. How do you intend to get all those men and women to Illum?” I interlace the fingers of my hands. It’s a good way to keep myself from fidgeting too much.
Zane returns his attention to the fairy. “Is it really okay to talk about such things in front of a prisoner?”
“She won’t get away anyway, but you are right. There is no need to worry. An illusion spell keeps her from seeing or hearing us. As far as she knows, she is inside a mirrored cylinder. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be sleeping, what with us being so loud,” I explain.
He nods. “Our people went into hiding, but I can contact them. As soon as we reach a city with a gate, I’ll send out a message. They will make their way to Illum, once they know where to go.”
“That sounds feasible. Our next goal is Laos and we will arrive there tomorrow morning. How long do you think it will take for your people to get to Illum?” I ask.
His expression turns sour. “One week at the most. Maybe two. Everyone who isn’t at the meeting point by that time was either caught or is already dead.”
I sigh. “You know that all of this doesn’t paint the Alliance in a favourable light? How can I ever trust such a government, or you? Why are you suddenly so eager to change sides? I just want to understand your motives.”
He tilts his head. “Nobody ever said that you should trust the Alliance, or us. You have to understand that the Alliance is a beast with many heads. There are those who want to work with you, but there are also those who just want to use you. That’s true for any government, but the Alliance takes that principle to the extreme.”
Zane pauses and takes his time to think about his next words. “The human king isn’t on anyone’s side. As long as the noble families are fighting themselves, they don’t fight him. He allows blood-feuds like the one between the Biralds and the Atrachs. He even encourages them. My family was on the losing side. Our ideals made us too many enemies and far too few friends. Right now, we don’t have much to lose and you are a rising power.
“I won’t say that I believe in you as our saviour, but you are in a unique position. If you play your cards correctly, you can rise to the top. We can help you with gaining some insights in Alliance politics. It seems much better to bet my family’s fate on you, than on us escaping the trap of our enemies.”
“It’s surprising that you get anything done. The more I learn about Alliance politics, the more amazed I am by the fact that you are capable of standing up to the Empire.” I twiddle my thumbs.
Zane laughs. “You are completely right. If you were a good student of history, you would know that the Alliance only exists because of the Empire. It was formed to withstand the oppression of the emperor, who lashed out at everything non-human. I am sure that without the emperor, the Alliance would fall apart within a single generation.”
So it’s like I feared. “It explains why the Alliance has no interest in defeating the Empire.”
He leans back. “Indeed. Those who have the power would certainly lose some of their privileges if the Empire is gone. Each race within the Alliance has its own government and jurisdictional organisation, but that’s only possible because we share our military. The military is tasked with defending the Alliance as a whole. They also suppress anyone who causes trouble and threatens the balance of power.
“But what happens when there is no outside threat which justifies such a military organization? The standing military will soon fall victim to cost-cutting measures and everyone will seek to solidify their own power. The factions which are already struggling for control will only intensify their efforts and raise the stakes.”
I grumble and turn my office chair to face the window. “Thank you for your thoughts. I’ll think about it. Maybe you should go and look after your father.”
It takes a while, but in the end, I hear the office door being opened and closed. Zane left. I turn the chair back and notice that Zane signed the contract.
There is one other thing to take care of. Smiling, I turn my attention to the fairy. A tip of my finger is enough to shatter the illusion which kept the fairy oblivious to my conversation with Zane.
I tap on the glass and shake it with enough force to rattle the fairy within it. Exactly what all the pet stores forbid. She stirs and sleepily looks around. “Fuck! I hoped that it was a nightmare.” Her squeaky voice sounds like that of a tiny mouse.
“It wasn’t.” I place the glass in front of me. “We need to talk about a lot of things, but let’s start with your name.”