“A good student of history doesn’t only study the reasons and events which led to the first worldwide war. He also tries to understand the people who acted behind the scenes.”
“Willow Tumblefield,” I answer. There is no point in lying. After half a day in this prison, I am fairly sure that there is no way out. At least not without my captor’s approval. I struck the glass and even tried to use my magic, everything to no avail. There must be an invisible barrier which covers the glass. “Can I have some water? Or do you intend to starve me to death? And I have to pee!”
Joyce doesn’t acknowledge my demands and continues. “I like your name. Allow me to explain something to you. The person you probably think I am… the naive genius who just wants her peace… I am not that person.”
I get into a sitting position and pull my knees to my chest. It’s probably for the best to say nothing. The moment I got to see Illum’s interior, I already knew that Joyce is way more than she seems to be. Her mastery of spacial magic, force fields, and barriers is way beyond anything the Alliance has.
Oh, they knew about her skills. The two guys who gave their report to the council described what they saw during their visit, but their description fell short of the actual situation. I suppose that they didn’t get to see all of Illum and failed to realize the full scale of Joyce’s knowledge. Illum is a single, large spacial chest. There is no way to tell its actual capabilities. The living quarters for the regular population are enough to leave me speechless.
School for everyone, health care, police forces, military. Illum is on a path to become a power of its own. She told the Alliance of her wish to create a school, but her plans certainly won’t stop there.
Joyce takes my silence as an invitation to continue. “You are an assassin, a person who has seen the dark side of the world.” She gestures at herself and smiles in a way which gives me the shivers.
“I am familiar with things which make ‘death’ sound like an easy escape. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I am a nice person just because I show the whole world a pretty facade. I would have no issues with squashing you like a bug. Unfortunately for you, you seem to be useful. That’s why I will give you a choice.” She scratches her chin and studies me.
The silence is stretching out until I can’t take it any longer. I have to get out of this glass. “Explain.”
Joyce points her finger at me. “You either get out of there as my employee, or you never get out. In that case, I’ll use you as I see fit.”
“As you see fit?” I ask.
She smiles again, but her expression is just a mask. “I like your ability. Maybe I’ll use you as breeding stock for more fairies. Or I’ll use you as a crafting material. It depends on my mood.”
So the bitch wasn’t joking. “There is no way that I will allow that. I would rather kill myself.”
“Then that leaves the first option. There are three types of people who work for me. The oblivious, the involuntary, and the initiated.” She claps her hands together. “Up until now, I have only the first two types working for me.”
I squint my eyes at her. “So what’s the difference?”
“Ah, the oblivious ones get a normal working contract and are paid like regular employees. They have to follow my commands and are punished if they cause me trouble. Then there are the involuntary ones, which means that they aren’t working of their own free will. You will get no payment and I’ll scratch a few runes into your skin. You will be nothing more than a slave. I don’t like slavery, but sometimes a person has to abandon her ideals to achieve her goals. Yes, I know that this makes me a hypocrite, but I don’t care.”
This person is unhinged. What happened to her? How can someone so powerful be that strange in the head? She just told me that she has no problem with breaking the law. Isn’t she supposed to be the ruler of a new country? How does she intend to stop me from telling anyone? Well, if life taught me one thing, then it’s to go with the flow. “I would like to be a normal employee.”
“Ah, but that’s a problem. I want you to do a little more than the normal employee. For that, you also have to know a little more than the normal employee. This means that I need a very special contract for you.” She bends down and rummages through the drawer beneath her desk. “Normally, I would hack off your hand and reattach it a few times. Your attack in front of the Alliance representatives did hurt a lot. But you are lucky. As it is, I have a lot of things to do.”
She places a document on the desk and opens my prison, then she tilts the glass.
I slide over the smooth surface and land on the desk. Rolling off my shoulder, I get back to my feet. She opened my prison, just like that. I look at Joyce who is smiling at me, then I look at the ventilation shaft. A possible escape route? Or should I attack? I still have my poisoned epee. They never bothered to take away my weapon.
The situation sounds like the ideal opportunity, but while mad, Joyce doesn’t strike me as a suicidal idiot. She must be very sure of herself to free me just like that. Using my wings, I fly up into the air and concentrate on my magic. I imagine myself growing, reversing the spacial effect which shrinks me to the size of a bug.
Joyce whistles. “I finally get to see it from up close. It’s some kind of spacial magic. You aren’t using the spell for a three-dimensional space, you are somehow applying it to an object. You aren’t really shrinking, but to the rest of the world it appears like you do. You are cheating.”
I open my eyes and find myself at a normal human size, so I use the chance to glare at Joyce.
Joyce isn’t impressed. “Don’t look like that. It’s what you get for trying to kill me. So, are you going to sign the contract? I don’t have all day and I also have to introduce you to the others.”
Willow is a rather wiry girl with green hair. Her wings look like a dragonfly’s and shimmer in all colours of the rainbow. One would never think that such a beautiful creature could be a cold-hearted killer. She is shorter than me and reaches the height of my shoulders. The fairy bends forward and signs the contract. Magical energy surrounds her, ensuring that a violation of the contract comes with severe repercussions.
“You didn’t bother to read it,” I comment.
“Did I have a choice?” She slams the pen onto the table and takes the contract. “I’ll read it later.”
I shrug and get to my feet. “As you wish. Come with me. I’ll introduce you to my command staff and then you can search for something to entertain yourself. Don’t get too caught up in something. Later on, I’ll need you for one of my projects. And don’t bother to escape. Illum won’t allow you to go anywhere until I say so.”
“Barriers?” she asks.
I nod and guide her out of my office. Then I give her an official tour through Illum. It takes a while, but at the end, I am glad to deposit her in her own quarters. Her version of the contract is a very strict one. It punishes violations with death, so I am fairly sure that she isn’t able to cause immediate trouble. A brief interrogation about her previous employers didn’t yield a definite result, though she thinks that her employers belonged to the Consortium.
Well, I never expected that a hired assassin would be told more than who to kill. Maybe a few details which are essential for the mission.
I am on my way back to my quarters when I encounter Zane. He is looking out of the large window in the reception room of my palace. His attention is fixed on the horizon and he is holding two big bottles of booze. I decide to sneak up on him. “Is there a good reason to get drunk?”
He pulls down the corners of his mouth. The lack of a reaction shows that he wasn’t surprised. “I lost a few good friends and subordinates when the Dawn crashed. If that’s not a good reason to get drunk, then I don’t know.”
I nod and take one of the bottles from him. “To those who went ahead of us.”
Zane snorts. “That’s a strange way to see it. Did you have a discussion with the Mirai envoy who relocated to your island?”
“Yes. They have a few interesting ideas about the world.” I take a sip and grunt appreciatively. “You went for the good stuff. This is the elven sparkling wine which I ordered for special guests.”
He laughs. “Then you should hide it somewhere out of sight, and not in the cupboard of your reception room. Like that, all of your guests will take the good stuff.”
“That’s a valid objection.” I gesture towards my office. “Why don’t we take this inside. And how is your father?”
“They are piecing him back together, but it will take a while. There is no risk to his life, but he didn’t take my decision well.” Zane follows me into my office and closes the door behind us. “He will come around. I have to give him time to think about our situation.”
I guide him to the balcony. From there we have a nice view of everything that’s behind Illum. For a while, we stay silent and watch the landscape passing by. The forest is slowly replaced by grassland, which is riddled with little ponds. With most of my bottle gone, I decide that drinking alone is boring. “What do you expect from the Alliance? How will they react once they hear of your defection?”
“The humans will be furious, but everyone else will think of it as an internal affair between our people. It’s not like we stole military equipment. Dawn is a crater in the ground. I would say that defending our legal position is now your problem,” he answers without a hint of guilt. “Everything depends on whether they believe our side of the story or not.”
I sigh and decide to take revenge on him. He shouldn’t expect me to solve everything. Leaning forward, I give him a nice view down the cleavage of my robe. “You know what everyone is going to say anyway?”
He steps back and swallows. “And there is only one person to blame for that.”
I study him until my eyes stay stuck on his hips. “Says the one who clearly shows a reaction to me. Why don’t we take this inside? I was abstinent for several months and you are my type. It’s hard to deny the urges of the body forever.” I lick my lips. Doing it alone gets boring after a while.
Zane was taking a sip from his bottle. He chokes upon hearing my proposal, but manages not to spill his booze. “What’s wrong with you!? You know that I am engaged! And you said that you like women.”
And that’s why it’s so interesting to pull your leg. I shrug. “I do. I also like men. It depends on the circumstances.” Mainly on my own gender… And maybe the fact that I am a little drunk. But long years of experience taught me that it’s not satisfying to do it with someone who lacks the correct equipment.