“There are two types of people, cat-people and dog-people.”
“I am Joyce. Who are you?” Duh!? I throw her a curveball in order to gain some time. It seems like this person knows a little too much about me. She also seems to be very powerful. The energy is coming off of her in waves, almost as if she has too much power to control all of it. As long as she is in Illum I am fairly sure that I have the upper hand, but I wouldn't want to meet her outside my place of power.
The woman in front of me could be a slightly older version of myself. I can't deny the family resemblance. She is a little less well-equipped than I am, and a lot leaner. Her expression is also harsher than mine and there are two small scars on her face. Nothing which makes her outright ugly. Just a small, pale line on her left cheek and above her right eyebrow. I guess she keeps them as a reminder. There is no reason why something like a scar can't be healed.
“I am Janice.” She tilts her head. “Please don't play games. I am trying to figure out what's going on. You are a reincarnated person. Have you always inhabited this body?”
“I am not a body-snatcher if that's what you mean. And how do you know what I am?” I squint my eyes at her. Should I end her right here and now? If she is also a reincarnated person, she could be dangerous. Though, it would explain her confidence. Damn, why does she have to be the leader of a nation? I have her entire fleet surrounding Illum. I should never have allowed them to get so close to us. Illum won't be able to get out of this unscathed if somebody starts shooting.
For some reason, she looks relieved. “Not that old then. You have no idea of soul magic, do you?”
“Soul magic?” Never heard of it. And she already saw through me, so there is no point in lying. “No, but I am very proficient with force fields and barriers, science stuff, as you can see.”
Janice leans back and pets the white cat which she brought with her. “Let's make a deal. We don't kill each other until we have resolved all our questions. An answer for an answer. A story for a story. No lies.”
I slowly reach for my tattoo. “I don't think that you are in a position to make such demands.”
She shrugs. “You are probably able to crush my body and I can't do much about that. But you would also die, together with some serious repercussions for your next reincarnation. I certainly won't be inconvenienced as much as you. So, do we have a deal?”
I am not entirely certain what her soul magic entails, but it bothers me that she took a single look and knew what I am. “For now.”
“Okay, and since I am the guest, I'll start. Tell me about your life on this world. Don't bother with the previous ones, or we would probably still be sitting here a year from now.” She nods for me to go on.
Why don't we decide by tossing a coin? Well, I guess it doesn't matter. This will take a while and I really have to get a grasp on what's going on.
I start with a short introduction and what little I remember of my early years as a slave. Then I quickly skim over my life as Nemus's slave. A small reaction shows me that Janice knows the name Nemus. I finish with my escape and the creation of Illum, not telling her anything of real substance.
Of course, I never mention all my little operations and less moral decisions. Nor the fact that I was the one who torched Orwen. In my version, I simply used the chance which fate gave me. There is likewise no need for Janice to know who created the conditions for the coming world war.
She huffs when I have finished my story. “I see. That's unfortunate, and I am sorry that I wasn't able to change your fate. At the same time, I am glad that you are who you are. It makes things a little easier.”
“You said that you would trade a story for a story. So? I think you know what I am going to ask.” I cross my arms in front of my chest.
It takes a few moments for Janice to decide where to start. In the end, she gives me a brief overview of the history of this world. Nothing I didn't already know, except for a few little details. Janice reincarnated about nine hundred years ago in the Mirai kingdom. That was when they still ruled over the coastal area which now belongs to the Sociocrathy.
The Mirai religion and their practice of necromancy were already in place when Janice was born, probably created long ago by another reincarnated person. Janice's parents died in the war against the Murians and she became their Sovereign. Faced with enemies from all sides, she decided to lead her people over the ocean and to create the Mirai State.
That was a hundred years ago.
Two decades later, after the Mirai established themselves as a pirate kingdom, the Sociocrathy launched an attack. They somehow managed to persuade the Alliance and the Empire to join their attack. It looked like a remarkable diplomatic feat to gain the assistance of two mortal enemies.
But the Empire had a plan of their own. They held back their forces and launched an attack on the Mirai's island, instead of joining forces with their allies. The task-force abducted Janice's daughter, Castella Mirai, and killed her husband. She was pregnant at the time. One year later, Janice's agents managed to rescue her, but the child was gone. Mother and daughter were kept in different locations to stop any rescuers from reaching both of them fast enough.
I raise a hand and laugh. It takes me a few seconds to calm down. “So, you are saying that I am a Mirai princess and your granddaughter.”
“You are Nova Mirai, daughter of Castella Mirai and Alec Vast.” Janice pulls a face, clearly angered. “There is an easy way to test it.” She takes the cat from her lap and places it on the table between us.
I pull back and instinctively raise a barrier to stop the animal from coming closer, but the white cat is unaffected and turns insubstantial upon passing through all my defences. Purring, it flops down into my lap. The furball curls up and goes to sleep as if nothing happened.
I smile upon seeing Joyce's reaction to Minx. The woman is frozen in shock. “Oh, you are definitely a cat-person. And my granddaughter.”
“Fuck off! I don't even know you. And what is this thing?” Joyce presses out between clenched teeth. She still doesn't dare to move and I notice that the little fairy in the ventilation shaft is moving. I have to appease them, or it might get violent.
I stop smiling and gesture at the cat. “That's Minx, a ghost cat. To be more precise, an ethereal energy construct which is linked to our bloodline. A familiar which is able to determine who belongs to the family. It's the symbol of being a member of the Mirai bloodline. You have nothing to fear from her.”
Joyce looks down at the cat, so I decide to continue. “Your mother was in a bad state when she was rescued. Unfortunately, we didn't get to you in time. Afterwards, the Emperor made sure that we didn't get our hands on you. Our fleet is powerful, but even we can't do much against a whole city which is full of mages. The Emperor also threatened to kill you, should a Mirai do so much as step onto imperial territory.”
Joyce looks up. “Excuse me, but that sounds fishy. You kept quiet for over eighty years, just to keep me alive. I gather that you attacked as soon as you heard of Orwen's destruction. Why?”
“Actually, I attacked when he couldn't give me proof that you were alive.” Leaning back, I try to get more comfortable. “That asshole deserves worse than seeing his Empire burn. And I am sorry for caring about my bloodline. I know that my feelings are a weakness of mine, but had I caused your death, my daughter would've never forgiven me, or herself if something happened to you. She is in a bad mental state.”
Joyce doesn't show any consideration for my feelings. “That still doesn't explain why the Empire abducted her in the first place. Was it really just to have a hostage? How did they know that you care that much about your family?”
I nod. “Having a hostage was just a secondary goal. The Emperor is playing the long game. He intended to use you and your mother for a breeding program. Each member of our bloodline can command the dead who were created by one of us. With that, after a few generations, the Mirai's biggest advantage could be used against us. They simply have to order our soldiers to lay down their weapons.”
Joyce shakes her head. “I can't command the dead.”
“Oh, you can. Didn't you notice that Emil readily answered all your questions? It's an ability which is handed down through the bloodline. No knowledge necessary. It's a peculiarity of this world.”
I continue before she can object. “As for why he kept some things from you, that's because I gave Emil very specific orders not to tell you about some things. It's also a matter of intent. You must will him to follow your order, and while my commands outrank yours, you can overcome that by giving your command repeatedly over a longer period of time.”
I shake my head. “Believe me, I am powerful, but not omnipresent. Had the emperor bred a whole group of loyal Mirai who share my bloodline, the Mirai State would be easy pickings for the Empire. Our own warriors would fight against us. It was incredibly lucky that you are infertile.”
“I am not infertile,” Joyce grumbles and pets the cat. “And why are you telling me all of this?”
“You would realize it sooner or later.” Then her words register in my mind and a cold shudder runs down my spine. “What did you say?” Did my agents feed me with the incorrect information? Eighty years! How many...
Joyce's expression lightens up. “Hah! Got you. You should've seen your face. No, you don't have to worry about an army of necromancers who are able to undermine your commands. Nemus was an idiot and never told me that I can't take preventive measures. I have no desire for brats.”
I let out a sigh. “That still leaves me with you. I hope you understand that I can't simply walk away and leave you to your own devices.”
Joyce studies me for a long time. “Why didn't you take over the world? I haven't met many reincarnated people, but shouldn't it be easy for you to force everyone on this fucking dirtball to their knees?”
I smile warily. “That would be the case if this was a normal world and I the only reincarnated person. This is a nexus point within the multiverse.”
She looks at me with a blank expression. “I know of the multiverse theory, but otherwise... no idea what you are talking about.”
I massage the bridge of my nose. “It means that there are other reincarnated beings on this world. Souls travel in something like streams from world to world, passing through the entire multiverse. Every once in a while, there is a world on which several streams meet. The high number of souls which pass through this plane increases the possibility of meeting another reincarnated soul. If you can recognize them. We aren't exactly advertising ourselves.
“The Emperor is one of them. The elven king is another one. I think that the Sociocrathy and the Consortium are also led by people who aren't from this world, but they are playing the game from the shadows. They don't take an active role like you and me. There are also one or two fellows who like to wander around a lot. They aren't affiliated with any nation, but I haven't seen them in several centuries. It could be that they got done in and aren't any longer in this world. You see, it isn't quite that easy to take over the world. Currently, the others are leaning back, but if you stir up the water too much, they might decide to take action.”
Joyce's expression turns distant. She is clearly trying to make sense of the situation. “Let's assume that you aren't telling me all of this just to get my cooperation. Because, to be honest, I don’t buy it. Why is this world so poorly developed if there is a constant flow of knowledge from people like us? And what do you suggest? I certainly won't give up on Illum.”
“Did you study this world’s history? One ongoing sob-story about the rise and fall of civilisations. A culture can rise within a few decades, but it takes only a few years to devolve to barbarism. It’s not like people like us bring only knowledge to this world. We destroy as much as we give. This world is caught in an everlasting dark age.”
I shrug and proceed. “I won't ask you to become a part of the family. We are strangers, but would you consider talking to my daughter and give her at least some absolution? And as I explained, I can't go away and ignore your existence. Therefore, would you like to join in an alliance with me? Two reincarnated souls are better than one, and your actions will force you into conflict with the others sooner or later.”