“A good fight needs at least two participants.”
With my fingers interlaced and my chin propped on my hands, I have a fierce staring contest with the little kitten. It’s been one night since I managed to throw everyone out of my office to have some peace. Yeah, peace my ass. This little hooligan takes a lot of attention. It explores everything, creating havoc in its wake. I almost lost some important documents to its curiosity.
“Now that I am watching you, you do nothing? The documents aren't so interesting anymore? I am not stupid, grandma. I know that that you can use this thing to spy on me.” I taunt it, but it’s just sitting there, eyeing me.
“I know that you understand me. So, why do you keep destroying my stuff?” Somehow, I feel stupid for talking to an ‘ethereal energy structure’. I really need to get a manual for this thing before it grows up and escapes my control. Yesterday was tiring, so I didn’t listen to Janice’s whole story about the familiar. A mistake. And I have to find out if this thing is a safety risk.
I have no proof, but my assumption that the Sovereign can use it to spy on me isn't too far-fetched. In my ignorance, I tried to cage it, but the little critter walks through all my barriers as if they aren’t there.
At last, I found out that it simply wants to be close to me. As long as I keep it with me, it doesn’t venture out on its own. That makes contacting my spies a lot more complicated. There is nothing in my office which is worth hiding. Illum is completely under my control. There is no password which can be stolen.
The door opens and Zane enters the office. I requested his presence because I need the help and the expertise of his people.
“You wish to talk to me?” He closes the door and approaches my office table, but he doesn’t sit down. Instead, he keeps his distance and remains standing two metres away from my desk.
“Yes, we have a little problem,” I answer.
He sighs. “What else could be? You get me into the worst fight I ever had with my fiancée, my father gave me two hours of chastisement, My mother doesn’t talk to me, and my little sister thinks that I am a philandering bastard. I am afraid that I’ll never be able to make things right. Oh, and I totally forgot the Mirai fleet which is surrounding us.”
What is he talking about? “We need to find a name for it. Do you think that Kalypso is a good name? Or Elias if it’s a boy? I don’t know its gender, yet. That’s a problem.”
Zane pales and his jaw drops. It’s as if all the colour left his face in an instant. “W- Wh- What are you talking about? I thought that we were safe!” He reaches up and runs his fingers through his hair. “You said that we were totally safe!? How could you!”
I raise an eyebrow and turn my attention towards him. “Safe? What are you talking about? Nothing is ever completely safe.”
He covers his mouth with his right hand and steps forward, taking the chair to sit down. “I am dead! I’ll never be able to explain this to my family. You… you… Why are you doing this to me!? What did I ever do to you!?”
His distress is obvious. And it seems to be a little out of context. I quickly rehash the conversation and realize that he must’ve misunderstood me. An evil grin appears on my face. “Don’t worry, I am not pregnant. Didn’t I tell you that our little one-night stand wouldn’t have any consequences for you?”
Zane deflates. “Oh. But what were you talking about?”
I point at the little furball in front me. “I was talking about this. The Sovereign gave it to me as a present to celebrate our alliance and the reunion with her granddaughter.”
Zane looks at the ceiling. “I am sorry for being a little out of the loop, but I had my hands full. Who is the Sovereign’s granddaughter?”
“I am! From your comments, I gather that your fiancée found out. How? I didn’t tell her anything.”
He closes his eyes. “Of course. I didn’t just betray my fiancée, I did it with a Mirai princess. How did she find out? The answer is simple. I told her. Better to learn it from me than from you.”
I shake my head. “Zane, Zane.”
I take the little kitten to pet it. “You are an idiot, but I guess that being an honourable idiot is a little bit better than a dishonourable one. But first! A dispatch arrived. Their reasoning is a little vague, but it seems like your king isn’t exactly a person of justice. They accused you of killing a certain Atrach...” I allow my voice to fade away and wait for him to respond.
It takes a while for Zane to give in. He throws his hands up in the air, giving up. “Okay! I admit it! I killed Pavel. He practically asked for it.” He continues to explain what happened and why their timetable was destroyed by my early departure.
Okay. After listening to everything, I suppress a sigh. “You know that I don't blame you for it. He was an asshole. At some point, I would've killed him myself, given the opportunity.”
Zane studies me with a wary expression.
Leaning back, I continue. “What I do blame you for is being a hypocrite. You always spout those speeches about morals and try to behave honourably, but then you go and kill one of your enemies without remorse. Your code of honour seems to be a very stretchy thing. So why weren't you able to do the smart thing, which was not to tell your fiancée?”
He plays with his thumbs, clearly annoyed with me for pointing out his character flaw. “I already explained that there is no love lost between me and her. Our betrothal is a purely political arrangement. Maybe, and this is just theoretical, I wanted to see what type of person she is. Especially since she followed me to Illum, which is highly suspicious if you ask me. We lost our status within the kingdom. For all intents and purposes, we are traitors.”
“And she freaked out.” I nod, surprised that he is already aware of one of the reasons for calling him. “Her reaction was within your expectations?”
I grimace, remembering the scene. “She cried and screamed, beating at my chest and calling me a traitor. It was bad enough for me to feel bad about it.” I close my eyes. Her teary eyes were red when it was over. At least the tirade didn't get too violent. “She had a real episode.”
Joyce tilts her head and rubs the little kitten against her cheek, lost in thought. “I am glad you aren't completely under her spell. Spies who woo the other party with love and sex are the worst. Especially when real feelings are involved.”
I squint my eyes at her. “What do you want to say?”
She shrugs and places the kitten on the table. Then she pulls a sheet of paper from a stack of documents and hands it to me. “These are her movements while she was on Illum. Do you notice something strange?”
I look at the document. It's a detailed map of Illum and there is a red path, indicating the movements of someone. Someone very busily walked every path and tunnel in Illum. “No?” I answer questioningly.
“She is trying to map Illum's interior,” Joyce answers. “She also had a few suspicious conversations with my citizens.”
I close my eyes slowly and place the document on the table. “So she is a spy? Just because she walked around to explore the area? I did that too.” I open my eyes. “So why am I not a spy?” I raise a hand and add a second question. “Are you monitoring everyone on Illum? How?”
Joyce huffs. “Of course I am logging everything that's important. At least of the important people. Like you, your family, my command staff, the Mirai. Though, I paid a little special attention to Carmen. She is the only one of my guests who flies beneath the radar of being famous and easily recognizable.”
My blank expression prompts Joyce to continue.
“She is unimportant enough to walk around unhindered and unrecognised. As you said, walking around to explore Illum isn't a crime, but she is clearly mapping the city, paying extra attention to the guard's quarters and our watchtowers. A person who is just exploring walks directly towards the interesting stuff after inquiring about it from the locals. She 'explores' every path and maintenance tunnel, may it be completely unimportant and plain. Oh, and I already mentioned the discussions with the locals?”
I glare at Joyce. It's clear that her story raises some suspicions, but I can't believe that I failed so completely in judging Carmen's character. “You seem to be very sure of your accusations. So, if she is a spy, why haven't you taken her in?”
Joyce rolls her eyes. “I'll use her. So far, she hasn't found out anything which I would call a secret of the state. Once she gets restless to produce some results, I'll feed her some critical information which I want the Alliance to have. Then I'll give her the chance to leave Illum unmolested. It's the oldest trick in the book. Afterwards, I can return my attention to corrupting you.” The last words come out with a stupid grin on her face.
“Corrupting me!? I am not some toy!” I complain, being righteously angry. “And how can I trust your records? You used some kind of magic? Not a person? How do I know that you didn't manufacture this document?” I stab my index finger at the map in front of me.
“Oh, did I say that last one aloud? I am so sorry. Well, but being wary of your fiancée is just one part of your new assignment.”
She simply goes on as if my opinion doesn't matter. I can't understand this woman.
“The second part has to do with freeing some fairies. I will equip your people with some small drop-ships. You will have to coordinate with Brian to get some ground troops. There is an assassin training camp which uses fairies as an energy source.”
Zane bends forward and covers his face with both hands. “It feels as if I am talking to a wall.” It takes a few moments for him to recover. At last, he returns to an upright position and looks at me. “How do you intend to get close? Illum isn't exactly hard to overlook.”
I raise a finger. “That's where you are wrong. I added a new trick to Illum's arsenal. I call it the cloudoflage.”
His angry glare tells me that my attempt at a joke wasn't understood.
I grumble. “Okay. Then we call it 'C.W.F.W.R.I.A.C' - Camouflage with fog, which results in a cloud.”
He still doesn't look amused.
I sigh and stand up. “You are no fun. Follow me.”
“Where are we going?” he asks and gets to his feet.
I notice that he avoids getting anywhere near me.