“No matter what you do, there are some things about history which you will never understand.”
Kiara enters the community room which is reserved for the command staff of Illum. She is humming and has a bowl with nuts in her hands. The girl has her left cheek stuffed and is happily chewing on her snack. Upon seeing me, she halts in mid stride. The beastwoman squints her eyes at me, taking in my appearance. “What the hell happened to you?”
She is one of the adventurers who serve Joyce in various functions. We were introduced when I visited Illum for the first time and I had a second chance to make her acquaintance when Joyce saved us from our enemies. Kiara hasn’t as much of a reputation as Fae and Tristen do, but she is known to be a permanent member of their party.
I return my attention to the table in front of me, supporting my head with my hands. I've been sitting here since yesterday evening and can only guess at my dishevelled appearance. “Something really, really bad happened.” I fucked up. Royally.
“It can't be that bad. You are still alive,” she answers and sits down on the other side of the table.
Oh, but it is. Maybe I should throw myself off of Illum and be done with it. Not only did I have a sexual encounter with my new employer, I betrayed my fiancée. If any of this gets out… I am doomed.
Joyce is a beautiful woman, but what attracts me is her independence and intelligence. My brain short-circuited when she played with the buttons of her clothes and took my hand. The temptress brushed her hips against my loins and pulled me back into the office where she made me lie down on my back. Then I wasn't allowed to move while she made a show of stripping while sitting on top of me.
It feels like the contours of her body are burned into my mind.
She even held me down with her force magic, though I must admit that I didn't even try to fight her. Who wouldn't get horny if a beautiful woman reveals her perfect body to you? She even made a show of pleasuring herself in order to entice me.
By the time she pulled down my trousers, my fantasies already did all the work to arouse me. She sank down on top of me and rode me with long circling motions until she found her release. The entire time, I wasn't allowed to move or to touch her. It was the strangest sexual encounter I ever had.
Then she threw me out!
I still don't understand what happened. Did I not perform to her expectations? Normally, it's the man who runs off after the deed. It feels strange to be used as a pleasure toy, just to be discarded immediately afterwards. She didn't even explain what this was about. Am I supposed to keep my mouth shut? Will she keep quiet about it? Was this a one-night-stand?
If I go by my past experiences with her, she will show up and rub my disloyalty into my fiancée’s face. Or worse, she did it intentionally to have something with which she can blackmail me.
Kiara breaks the silence. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No.” What's there to talk about? I don't understand that woman! That's the biggest problem. Maybe I was wrong to put my family's fate into her hands. But it seems like the only way out. “Why is Joyce so interested in playing with me?”
“Play?” Kiara asks.
“You know what she does. Showing off her body, attempts at seducing me.” I guess it isn't just an attempt anymore. “You know about it. You often were on the balcony when she showed off her newest piece of lewd clothing.”
Kiara smirks. “I wouldn't call her bathrobe and her nightgown lewd, but you are right about the fact that she is teasing you intentionally.”
“So, why? What did I do to attract her attention?” I ask.
“Maybe you should ask what you didn't do. Any normal guy would have happily taken each of her treats, enjoying the show. You didn't. You even tried to look away and feigned disinterest. That woman seeks the thrill of corruption. You, the perfect gentleman and obviously a man of honour, are the perfect target to attract her attention.” Kiara shrugs and throws another nut into her mouth.
“So, you are saying that I have to behave like a lecherous bastard and as a result, she will have no interest in me.” So I was right! If I am not careful I'll pay dearly for that one night.
I open the door to Joyce's office. “You called for me?”
My new master/employer is at her usual place at the office table. She is staring at the ceiling and has her legs on the desk in a rather relaxed manner.
It doesn't look like she is busy, so I step into the office and close the door behind me. When she doesn't react, I clear my throat to gain her attention.
She looks at me and smiles. “I was just thinking. Let's get you equipped and briefed. There is something important to do. I planned to take care of this by myself, but with Zane and Oswin I have two unexpected new arrivals who will occupy my time. That leaves only you.”
Joyce gets to her feet and gestures at the floor. A set of stairs appears in the centre of the office, leading into a basement. “Let's go to my workshop. You'll need some special equipment to do this.”
By now, nothing on Illum surprises me. I follow her down the stairway and arrive at a workshop. Looking around, I try to spot the secret behind Joyce's abilities, but I have to admit that I don't have the knowledge to understand most of the stuff which is stored down here. It's very likely that I already got a glimpse at the answer, but am unable to make sense of it. She has a lot of strange artefacts and machinery down here.
Joyce guides me into the darkness beyond the magelight which is placed above the entrance to her workshop. I realize that this space must be huge, and immediately wonder why she needs so much space for her magical experiments. She summons a magelight to give us some illumination.
We walk through the darkness and it takes a while until I can make out another light ahead of us. At that point, I just can't take it anymore. “Just who or what are you?”
“You aren't allowed to share this information, that's an order. Are you familiar with the theory of souls and reincarnation?” Joyce asks.
I purse my lips. “You mean the Mirai religion? Yes, I know the rough details.”
“They are right, though not about everything. There are souls which don't forget their past lives when they pass through the void to another world. Mine is one of them and there is an endless amount of worlds like this one. I can access several lifetimes of magical knowledge, experience, and science from different worlds.” Joyce answers without blinking an eye.
I turn towards the strange woman. “It would explain a lot, but that sounds too farfetched. Wouldn't a person with so much knowledge be like a god? Why do you even concern yourself with the people of this world?”
Joyce shrugs. “I said that I can remember. That doesn’t mean that my memory is perfect. In fact, I am quite sure that I don't remember a lot of important stuff. Some of my lifetimes seem to be completely missing.
“But with enough training and some memory techniques, my previous incarnations managed to hammer enough basic knowledge into my soul to reverse engineer a lot of things which can be quite useful.” She spreads her hands. “It's good to know how to build a bow in a world which is filled with barbarians.”
“So you aren't infallible. And if I kill you, you won't come back to haunt me,” I note.
Joyce doesn’t feel threatened. “Far from that. I'll simply be reborn in the next world. It's an endless, horrible cycle. Sometimes I really envy those with weak souls.”
I turn to face her. “Why?”
“Because the ability to forget is a gift which makes you quite happy, most of the time. The ability to remember is a thrill which makes you seek more. I fear the day on which I lose the memories which I hold dear.” She points at the area in front of us. “We don't have limitless time.”
I walk towards the light. “You still haven't answered my question. What do you seek? It's not like I can tell it to anyone.”
She smiles sardonically. “I seek revenge for what this world did to me while I was weak. And when I am done, this might be a better place. If I should ever come back.”
Those are morbid thoughts. She talks as if her death is certain. “You just said that there is an endless amount of worlds. Isn't it unlikely to be reborn in the same world twice? If you don't like this world, then why don't you just kill yourself and go on to the next one?”
“Hahaha. What guarantee do I have that the next isn’t worse? Been there, done that. Besides, which adult willingly returns to being a child? On top of that, every rebirth comes with memory loss. As a result, it takes a while to regain all my knowledge. It's inconvenient and, believe me, sooner or later I'll die anyway. Maybe someone assassinates me, or I slip on a stairwell and break my neck. That would be a stupid death, but it happens. Nobody can stay alert for all eternity. At some point, you get careless or reckless and then it's over. Restart.”
We stop in front of an area which is lit by another magelight. There is a large metal cylinder in front of us. It looks a little like the smokesticks which dwarves tend to smoke. The thing has a silver colour and is five metres in length. It's floating seemingly weightless half a metre above the ground.
Joyce gestures at the artefact and a broad door opens up, forming a stairway. She leads the way inside and hands me a ring. “That's the control key for this shuttle.”
“Shuttlewhat?” I ask and study the narrow room inside the artefact. Or is it a cockpit? I've seen personal miniature ships in the Consortium, but they are rare and very expensive. Only highly decorated couriers ever get to touch one. The room is completely empty, except for two chairs in front of a control panel. The front-side of the artefact is made of glass, which grants the pilot a good view of his or her surroundings.
“It's a ship. Just large enough to carry a handful of people. I made it as a prototype, but it's faster than Illum or any other ship I know of. That's why you have to be inside this capsule.” She points at two chairs at the front. “Sit down. I have to explain the controls. This ship isn't fully automated, so I need a pilot.” She gestures for me to take a seat in the left chair.
“But I don't understand any of this,” I complain and I sit down.
“Do you understand how a communication crystal works?” Joyce asks with an annoyed expression on her face.
I shake my head.
She continues. “Yet you are using them. This is the same thing. Don't worry, I think that this thing is almost idiot proof. There should be no problems in flying it.” She continues to explain the controls, which takes a while, but it is indeed not that hard to understand. There is a stick to control the alignment of the shuttle and a lever for the speed.
Thankfully, there is also a panic button which sends the entire vehicle into 'hover mode'. Which means that it will automatically hold its position. I think I'll be using that function a lot.
Finally, there is a button which lands the shuttle at ground level.
“You don't look very confident, but it's only a matter of time until you get used to it,” Joyce says.
“I'll never see my family again,” I complain.
“There are more of you?” the maniac asks with a mad gleam in her eyes.
I quickly close my mouth and try to think of a way to distract her. If this lunatic gets a hold of more fairies, there is no way to tell what she will do. “That's just a figure of speech. You said that you have a job for me?”
She squints her eyes at me. For some reason, she allows me to change the subject. Joyce gestures at my hand. “Wave the hand with the ring in front of you to call up the map.”
I do as I was instructed and the illusion of a world map appears in front of me. “Neat.”
Joyce starts explaining, “That's your current position and this is where I want you to be. It's in the middle of the ocean, but there is a small island. You should find a ship there. A large one with a strong hull. Relatively new. Go on board and clean up the dirt. Then use this button while you are hovering above the ship. A force field will lift the entire ship with the shuttle. The reason why you are there is to bring me the ship.”
I cringe. “Won't everyone see me?”
She points at a switch. “Camouflage. As long as you don't get within a hundred metres of people, nobody should be able to see the shuttle or the ship. Don't worry about the details of landing. I'll take control with Illum as soon as you are back.”