“A nation only stays a nation as long as its government has the power and determination to uphold its ideals and policies. If it can’t do that, the nation crumbles.”
“This is bad.” Oswin studies the scene of corpses. “Now they will send their fleet for sure.”
I laugh. “I bet that their fleet is already on the way. But don’t worry. This is nothing I didn’t prepare for. Though, I must admit that it’s a little insulting. These paladins tried to capture me all by themselves. Unfortunately, this practically forces a reaction from our side.”
Turning, I glare at Fae. The fact that she switched off the barrier is a little disconcerting. The rings grant my command staff a certain amount of control over Illum, which includes the minor force fields. “And we will have a nice discussion about our behaviour, later.” This isn’t something to be discussed in public.
The elf blushes. It seems like she realized that she said a little too much.
Esmeralda raises her eyebrows. “What do you mean with responding to this attack?”
I gesture at the mess which is surrounding us. “They attacked the representatives of an independent power. Worse, they tried to put a slave collar on their leader, me.” I turn and search for the item. It’s just a few feet away, so I go and grab it. My initial hunch turns out to be true. This is indeed a slave collar in the form of shackles.
In a wicked way, it makes sense for a police force to use them to restrict violent prisoners. But the sheer audacity of trying to put it on me is unbelievable.
Just in time, I notice that Brian is already almost done with killing off the survivors. Isn’t that guy supposed to be a paladin himself? “Brian, stop killing the survivors! Geez, what are you so worked up about?”
The commander of my guards stops his sword from finishing off yet another injured paladin. He blushes and steps back. “I am sorry! I guess that I got carried away.”
Fae points at the large knight. “He is from a different order than those douche-bags. Their groups have something like a blood feud going on. Their disciples are sworn to kill the other party if they ever cross paths.”
I raise a hand to cast a healing spell onto the man who was about to die by Brian’s sword. The injured man is one of those who got burned by my flamethrower spell. Yuck! Seeing the aftermath of my magic isn’t a pretty sight. The skin on the man’s hands came off completely, but he managed to protect his face. Well, most of it. That’s the reason why he is still alive.
The paladin is moaning in agony, but my healing spell quickly numbs his pain and starts regenerating the skin. I don’t wait and clip the shackles around his wrists, infusing them with magic. He screams and tries to resist the enchantment which begins to influence his mind. I wait patiently, knowing perfectly well that it’s just a matter of time until he succumbs.
“What do you think you are doing?” Zane asks. He looks horrified.
Why is he so upset? Is it about the fact that I used the slave collar on the idiot who watched while someone tried to put them on me? “I want to get a little information before he dies.”
Zane closes his mouth and looks at his father, but the old man shakes his head.
When the paladin is finally silent, I order him, “Get to your knees. Tell me everything you know about your orders. How did you intend to capture me? Will you gain any assistance from airships? I can hardly believe that you thought to take on Illum together with a few city guards.”
The man gets to all fours, whimpering. He stays silent and I know that he is still fighting the slave collar, which is surely sending electrical impulses to stimulate all his pain receptors at once. If it’s one of the fancy collars, which I assume, then I don’t even have to worry about him losing consciousness. Admiringly, he keeps his mouth shut for a whole minute until he gasps and spills his breakfast on the ground.
I step back to avoid getting dirty.
Once he is able to breathe, he is suddenly very eager to tell me everything. “The captain got the order to wait for an opportunity to seize you, robbing Illum of its leader. In any case, we are awaiting a fleet of eighty ships. They should arrive in two or three days and are supposed to deal with the flying island. I don’t know anything more! I swear!”
I click my tongue and consider his words. “That makes the Sociocrathy’s standpoint towards Illum very clear. I am afraid that I have to show them that Illum isn’t theirs to take. Claw out your eyes and eat them, then bite open your wrists until you die of blood loss. That’s an order.”
The man howls and starts clawing at his eyes, but Zane steps in before I get to see the results. His weapon pierces the man’s heart, ending his struggles prematurely. Zane pulls the weapon out of the corpse and glares at me. “That was unnecessary!”
I raise an eyebrow. “That’s the imperial method for punishing an enemy. They tried to put that slave collar on me, therefore they won’t get any mercy. Brian, kill the rest.”
Turning, I show Zane that the discussion is at an end. “Oswin, make sure that your people know that they have only one more day to use the gate network. After that, they have to wait until we arrive at another city with gates.”
He nods and I allow myself a quick glance at Esmeralda, Nadine, and Carmen.
Oswin’s wife is composed and has a determined expression on her face. It’s clear that she isn’t new to death. Nadine, on the other hand, is as pale as a ghost. She is holding onto her mother’s sleeve and shows all signs of shock.
Carmen avoids eye contact. It seems like my little show changed her perception of me.
I touch my tattoo and connect directly to Illum. It takes only a few moments to find the preset feature which turns Illum’s barrier into a huge speaker. This works by vibrating the barrier, transmitting my voice all over Laos. I set the volume to a reasonable level and clear my throat.
“Test, test.” My voices echoes all around us. Damned feedback effect! Entirely too loud. Ouch.
I turn down the volume even more and try to sound cheerful. The people of Laos will need it. “Ahem! This is Joyce, the leader of Illum. We are a new independent power, but your government doesn’t seem to recognize that. They tried to put a slave collar on me to gain control over Illum. Unfortunately, I am allergic to such things. Aside from the attack on my person, Illum won’t tolerate any form of slavery or slave collars. Anyone who uses them on one of our citizens will have to deal with the consequences.
“As it is, I probably could have overlooked this attack as the mistake of a misguided group of people. Unfortunately, your government also sent a fleet of airships to take control of Illum. I have no other choice, but to see this as a declaration of war. You have until tomorrow, midday, to evacuate Laos. Afterwards, this city will cease to exist.
“I may remind you that any attack on Illum will be met with an immediate lethal response. The same goes for any rioters or people who try to take advantage of the situation. I’ll simply bombard offenders and victims alike. Just leave the city with everything you need in an orderly and civil manner.”
I loop my speech to be endlessly repeated, then I set Illum’s force cannons to automatically destroy any location which is the origin of an attack on the floating city.
Turning, I realize that everyone is looking at me with blank expressions. “What?”
Even as I ask, a huge fireball rises from somewhere within the city and one of Illum’s gun ports opens. The magical attack is answered by the heavy ‘thud-‘thud’ of several kinetic projectiles. I can’t see the impact zone, but I am quite sure that a few large craters appeared there. The fireball keeps rising and impacts Illum's barrier, doing nothing. I harrumph. They don’t seem to have a power stone in this city.
Airship barriers posed a problem to my smaller force cannons, so I decided to invest my time in a few upgraded versions. The small ones shoot projectiles which are two centimetres in diameter. The new, large ones are fifteen centimetres in diameter and have a weight of ten kilograms, they pack a heavy punch. So far, I have only two of the large cannons protecting each side of Illum. They are another hotfix which isn’t intended as the final solution. I really would like to have the time to weaponize Willow’s ability and to study her crossbow. The enchantments on the bolt especially.
Brian shrugs and decides to be the one who complains. “Oh, I don’t know. Wiping out a city, isn’t that kind of evil? And what happens if the Sociocrathy is so pissed off that they don’t stop hunting us?”
I dismiss his argument with a gesture. “Don’t worry. Am I not giving them time to evacuate? The Sociocrathy will soon have too many problems to even consider us. I expect them to apologize as soon as they realize that they can’t spare the resources to deal with us.”
As I activate Illum’s force magic to get us back to the island, Esmeralda starts smiling. “Zane, I am not sure about your reasons for throwing us into the same pot with that maniac, but I am starting to like her.”
I glare down at Laos, leaning onto the balustrade. Carmen and I are positioned at Illum’s mid-section, this is one of the best locations to watch the destruction of the city. I tried to argue against it for the rest of the evening, but Joyce didn’t want to consider any of it. She thinks that this is a good opportunity to demonstrate our policy and determination towards the world.
There are lots of people outside to watch. Nobody has an idea how she is going to do it. I survey the rows of people who are manning the balustrade. Even the new walkabout around Illum is full of people.
Honestly, I don’t understand why she thinks that she can get away with this. At this point, it’s still possible to fix things with the Sociocrathy. After Laos’s destruction, there is no way back.
I talked to a lot of Illum’s citizens. None of them seem to have any problems with Joyce’s actions. To them, she is some kind of saviour. I have to admit that I can’t blame them. Most of them are simple workers or upper middle class. My family is the first large group of nobles who get to join Illum. Everyone else is facing vastly improved living standards.
But all those people down there will lose their homes. Those who refuse to flee will also lose their lives. I watch the camps of refugees which sprung up all around the town. Most are still hoping that Joyce won’t follow through on her threat, or that they can rebuild afterwards.
They hope in vain. I have seen Joyce’s determination.
I still can remember her biggest argument for doing this. ‘If I do it now, I can reduce the casualties to a minimum. Additionally, all these people will become refugees and carry the word of what happened here through the Sociocrathy and the Alliance. Now that I have seen the Sociocrathy’s policy, I don’t think that it is beneath them to manipulate the news about what happened here. It’s almost impossible to do that with a hundred thousand people who know the truth running through their country.’
A sudden ‘crack’ and a crumbling building draw my attention to Laos’s city centre. Slowly, the entire area is flattened. It’s like a god reached down from the heavens and used his finger to crush an annoying bug. Joyce is using Illum’s force magic to destroy the city. I gulp when I remember the large scars in the ground back at the dead mine. That’s when I realize that Illum wasn’t built. Not really. Most of Illum’s mass must have been simply ripped out of the ground. There is no reason why this ability can’t be used as a weapon.
I watch as the invisible pillar of force starts moving in circles. Slowly but steadily it stirs up the ground, grinding Laos to dust! The force field seems to be about a hundred metres in width.
At this rate, it will take a few hours until the city is completely gone. I feel a little better when I realize that this gives even the most pigheaded fellows a last chance to flee. I only hope that Joyce has an idea on how to escape this approaching fleet.
Carmen steps to my side and reaches for my hand. We didn’t talk much since she showed up. I pull a face and sigh.
“Carmen, I have to tell you something.”