“The Sociocrathy knows two forms of diplomacy. Peace for those who they deem stronger. War for those who they deem weaker.”
I wake up and rub my eyes. After Emil’s visit yesterday evening I felt tired and went to bed. It’s really annoying that I can only make up theories about the Mirai at this point. I simply don’t have any solid leads to go on.
Maybe I should just stay in bed today. It’s not like Illum will fall apart if I am not supervising everything. My staff has a firm hand on things and if there is anything they can’t handle, they can call me.
Or I could take a walk through the park? Ah, there are so many people out there. It wouldn’t be relaxing. Relaxing? Yeah, maybe that’s the problem. It has been seven months since I escaped and I didn’t take a single day off. Maybe half a day when I created Illum, but that’s all. It could be that I am over-worked.
Someone knocks on the door of my bedroom.
I close my eyes, draw in a deep breath to let it out. “Yes?”
Fae opens the door. “Are you sick?”
“It’s already midday and you are a very active person. We never noticed you oversleeping for any reason.” The elf enters the room. She looks around, dissatisfied with what she sees. “It’s not surprising that you are depressed. Your private quarters are very spartan, almost gloomy.”
I roll my eyes. Yes, my quarters are very simple. There are no pictures or plants. Just furniture and cabinets for storage. I am used to it, so it isn’t that bad. In fact, I hate having plants in my quarters. Plants belong in the garden. In a room, they just create unnecessary work. The same goes for decorations, because they gather dust. “I threw Klein and his crew out as soon as the quarters were ready. There is no need for decorations and all that stuff. Is there anything you need? Otherwise, I would call this day a vacation.”
“Vacation?” She raises her eyebrows. “Well, I suppose you can. Oswin and Zane went down to the city in order to get their family. I thought that you might want to meet them, but since Oswin and Zane are going to be your contacts I suppose that it isn’t necessary.”
“Who exactly are we talking about?” I ask.
Fae scratches her head. “Oswin’s wife and Zane’s little sister. Apparently, the fiancée also decided to make an appearance. Maybe we can get some information about what’s going on within the Alliance. The lack of a reaction worries me.”
I bite my lower lip and chew on it for a few moments. “I guess it can’t be helped.” I sit up and search for something acceptable to wear. My nightgown might not relay a sufficient impression of my person. Then I remember that Laos isn’t necessarily a friendly environment, so armour isn’t a bad idea.
Five minutes later, Fae and I depart. Brian accompanies us with ten of his guards. Suddenly, I realize why I felt so down. I didn’t leave Illum for quite a while. My only possibility to see the city was that stupid birthday party… And we all know how that went. Union seemed to be an interesting city, but because of the threat of an assassination, I didn’t dare to wander around.
Well, the threat is still there, but at least I caught Willow. I guess being hunted is going to be my life from now on. At least until my plans come to fruition.
We land directly in front of the large building which houses the gate network. Unlike the one in Hormundad, this one is made out of red bricks and looks like a simple warehouse. It’s located at the market and heavily guarded, so we wait outside.
The market doesn’t look very sophisticated. The stands are made out of wood and there are just a few shops which are of higher quality. Laos isn’t on the same level as Hormundad, but it’s big enough for a gateway connection. The people keep their distance from us. I can’t blame them for it. They are clothed in a similar fashion as in the Alliance. Robes and leather. Nothing extravagant like in Union. Most of them are humans or beastkin.
What worries me though, is the abnormally high amount of city guards. They are positioned all over the area. At least they aren’t well-equipped. Only leather armour and spears, but there are many of them. I count at least forty. A precaution? I reach up and make sure that my barrette is in position. “I can’t see Oswin and Zane. Shouldn’t they be here?”
“They are waiting inside the building for their people,” Brian informs me.
I quickly survey our guards. Brian brought ten people, all of them in heavy armour. Five are equipped with shields and short swords. Three more have halberds and the last two are armed with bows.
I study them and wrinkle my nose. “Fae, remind me to upgrade Illum’s guards with proper equipment.” My two little students aren’t ready to take care of Illum, but I can teach them some enchantments which should enhance the equipment of our soldiers a lot.
Fae studies the men. “It’s the best equipment we can buy. There are a few good blacksmiths on Illum, but we have nobody who is dedicated to weapons and armour. Even if we had someone, such things take a lot of time to produce.”
I snort. “I am not thinking about metal. There are some materials which are at least as good and weigh a lot less. Weight doesn’t matter to people who have a strength ability or inner mana manipulation, but everyone else will benefit greatly. I really have to talk to some of the scholars. My ideas will need some research.” Mainly about what is feasible and what isn’t.
“Okay. You intend to pull a few more inventions out of your hat? Why am I not surprised?” Fae shakes her head and pulls out a small booklet to note down my wishes. “I’ll talk to the scholars, but I am afraid that we tasked most of them with organizing the academy.”
I shrug. “They can stop their activities for a few days. I don’t remember greeting them properly.”
“They arrived when you were occupied, and afterwards the Mirai envoy took your attention. I heard that you had a second meeting with him. Anything new?” Fae closes her booklet and stows it away.
“That remains to be seen. He was very secretive, but I don’t think that it’s something you have to worry about. There is no way to change what’s going to happen.” At least I think that it’s not worth the effort. Whatever the Sovereign wants, it seems to be important enough to visit me in person. If she is willing to go to such lengths, then the easiest way to solve the issue is to talk to her.
Oswin and Zane appear with seven of our guards. They leave through the gate network’s main entrance and are accompanied by five people. Two women, a teenager, and three men. Upon seeing us, they make their way in our direction and join up with our group.
I immediately recognize Barbie-face. Now that I see her in person, I also remember her name, Carmen. The teenager must be Zane’s little sister, which means that the other woman is Zane’s mother. She is a brunette with a strict face and a lean body. Her daughter is a little sturdier with a slightly rounder face. Must be Oswin’s genes. I smirk.
Oswin reaches us first and introduces me to the newcomers while the guards form a circle around us. “Joyce, I think that you already know Carmen. This is Esmeralda, my wife, and our daughter, Nadine.” He points at the men. “These two are trusted members of our household and their personal guards.”
I shake hands with one after the other and smile. “My name is Joyce. I am the ruler of Illum.”
Esmeralda looks up to the floating city above us and I use the chance to check out Zane. Something tells me that he didn’t have ‘the talk’ with Carmen. “Is Carmen already an official member of your family?” I point at the blonde.
Zane clears his throat. “I beg you to overlook her presence. I know that you only extended your hospitality to blood relatives.”
Carmen squints her eyes at Zane, then she glares at me. “Don’t be so high and mighty. The Biralds might need this alliance at the moment, but my people are already working on undermining the Atrach’s influence on the king. He will surely realize that his policy isn’t beneficial to his goals.”
Like I care, but let’s stay diplomatic. “I see. Do you bring any other information regarding the Alliance? After all, two of their ships attacked Illum. I can hardly believe that a diplomatic incident like that stays unanswered for several days.”
Esmeralda turns her attention to me. “The various faction leaders came down hard on our king, so it might take a while for the Alliance to reach an agreement on how to respond.”
I play with a strand of my long hair and answer as friendly as possible. “I understand. Maybe we should talk-”
A commotion and a shout from one of our guards distract me. While we were talking, the Laos city guards closed in on us, led by a group in very expensive armour. There are silver and gold all over them. Thankfully, they were stopped by our people, which led to the commotion.
I turn to address Brian. “Don’t do anything, unless you are attacked. Only defend.” I turn back to the new arrivals and walk closer until I am directly behind the guard who warned them off. Addressing their leader, I bow slightly. This has to be some kind of misunderstanding, so let’s try to resolve this peacefully. “I am Joyce, ruler of Illum. Do you need something?”
A highly decorated fellow steps forward. “We are the Paladins of Mercy. Joyce, you are under arrest and all your property is confiscated. The charges against you are as follows. Illegal entry into our airspace, assistance of dubious elements from the Alliance, violation of the trade agreements...”
He goes on and on.
I turn back to the others. “Who are the Paladins of Mercy?”
The teenager, Nadine, looks at me as if I am retarded. “They are the Sociocrathy’s highest legal jurisdiction and strongest military force. Some say that they are judges and executioners in one.”
“Ah.” I turn back to the man and quickly count his followers. Seventeen guys in heavy armour. “Does this mean that you don’t recognize Illum as an independent power?” I ask, interrupting their leader. While doing so, I call up Illum’s control menu and step out of the protective circle which was formed by our guards.
The paladin stops his self-righteous listing of my supposed crimes. “Why should we recognize you as an independent power!? Just because the Alliance is afraid of a single, oversized piece of rock, doesn’t mean that we have to follow their example. Come with us peacefully and nobody has to get hurt. If you comply with our demands, you may even walk free.”
The muscles in the left side of my face start twitching, so I reach up to rub my cheek. “That’s strange. You see, there must be a problem with your code of conduct. A reasonable person would expect that you first try to talk to the offending party. Before you arrest and blackmail them.”
I smile and take a step closer. “I didn’t get a single complaint from your government about Illum’s presence at Laos.”
He glares daggers at me and reaches behind himself. When he reveals his hand, he has a set of shackles in them. “I am only doing my job.”
That does it! Shackles, slave collars. Never again! I activate the barrier around my group and a clearly visible, blue bubble flashes into existence. I may as well use this chance to test the results of my training. I raise both hands, palms out. “Sorry, but since you don’t want to be reasonable, I have to see this as a declaration of war against Illum.”
The large man furrows his forehead and steps forward, raising the shackles. He took my offered hands as a sign of capitulation.
I also advance on him and my hand shoots out, stopping him in the middle of his step. My lengthened fingernails burrow through his armour and pierce his heart. His eyes widen and he looks down at his chest.
Retracting my fingernails, I leave five little holes in his chest-piece. He stands there, clearly not believing what just happened, so I place my palm on his chest and shove lightly. The paladin falls backwards like a felled tree and impacts the ground with a heavy ‘thud’.
I look around and access the energy in my barrette, channelling it through me. “Wow. I would’ve never believed that a large market place like this one can be quiet enough to hear a pin drop. I like it quiet. So peaceful.”
That spurs them into action. They rush at me and I meet them by leisurely walking forward, raising my hands. Two jets of blue flame shoot at the first row of attackers. They scatter, but the flames hit the closest ones, charring three of them. They scream as their exposed skin is blasted off their flesh.
The others quickly resort to ranged combat. “Almighty Lord! Strike thy foe down with thunder!” His lengthy incantation left me with plenty of time to prepare a counterspell. Besides, which idiot announces his attack to the enemy?
I reach out and use my left hand as a lightning rod. Redirecting my magic into a tight leash, I pre-charge the air-molecules and create a channel of superconductive gas. With my right, I throw it out towards the tightest group of enemies.
The bolt of electricity hits me and is redirected towards the paladins. Four of them drop to the ground, nothing more than twitching bodies. They are already dead, but their nerves are still being animated by the electricity.
Using force magic, I pick up the bodies of three downed opponents and throw them at targets of opportunity. The casters react as expected and stop their chants. It’s hard to keep your concentration if a comrade is dropped onto you.
Pushing myself off the ground, I jump forward to evade several spells. I land right between them and punch the closest opponent. His head snaps back and he is sent flying. Tumbling, he crashes into a nearby stall, but I don’t spare him much of my attention.
Laughing, I point my arms to my left and my right, recasting the flamethrower spell. A quick spin leaves me in a group of squealing foes.
Well, mostly. Two of them seem to have a protection spell and aren’t affected. The closest one charges through my flames and tries to bash in my head. His huge war mace parts the air right in front of my face as I frantically roll backwards over my shoulder.
Coming back to my feet, I ready crude energy blasts in each hand to repel anyone who is too close.
The paladin with the war mace followed me, but he drops dead before I can shoot him with my spells. Someone nailed him with an arrow.
A spear point blooms from the second opponent’s chest. Zane appeared out of nowhere right behind the paladin and turned him into shish kebab. He must have taken the spear from one of the fallen.
I wrinkle my nose and turn to look at the rest of the group. Our guards are still holding their protective formation. About fifteen city guards are dead on the ground in front of their feet. The market place is empty of any living soul, except for us. Even the remaining guards fled.
Well, mostly. There are the wounded paladins, but Brian is enthusiastically putting them out of their misery with his trusty sword.
I dispell my magic and cross my arms in front of my chest. “Didn’t I tell you to stay back? How did you even take down the barrier?”
Fae raises her hand and points at her ring, smiling. “I had this thing for long enough to understand what it can do. You don’t cast those impenetrable force fields entirely by yourself. As soon as you broke up their formation, I switched off the barrier to assist you.”