“Don’t try to be one step ahead of your enemy. Try to win the game before it even starts.”
“You have to be very careful when you attune yourself to soul magic. It's very easy to lose control, lusting for more and more power. You are already training hard to channel more energy. Just don't forget the principles behind soul magic, and the consequences it has.” I finish my explanation and use the chance to study Nova's workshop.
She got very far in her attempts to recreate various technologies, but everyone can see that most of her designs rely heavily on enchantments. It's a good way to circumvent some of the issues of purely physical technologies, but sooner or later her progress will slow down. Some things can't be created with a hand gesture.
Nova stares at the three-dimensional representation of the formula. It proves the existence of the multiverse and allows the conclusion that there is also something like a soul for every intelligent being. I guided her through the necessary steps to find the answer by herself.
Illum's ability to project illusions was very helpful in documenting our work. Nova even gave me restricted access to make our work easier. It's surprising how much she achieved with the limited calculation power of her power cores. I really need to give her a few of the CPUs from my laboratories. It would make her an even stronger ally. Should I use it as bait to lure her to Mirai? Or should I make it a surprise for our arrival?
“So these quantum fluctuations, energy waves, which exist all around us, are souls?” She plays with her hair, pondering the implications. “I still don't get it. How can they store memories?”
I sigh. “They can interact with the nerve system of an intelligent being. If the frequency fits, if body and soul are attuned to each other, all the body's experiences and memories are stored forever in the layers of reality. It's like an endless radio transmission, and since a soul exists outside the physical reality, you can access your memories from wherever and whenever. The fact that so many signals overlap each other at different frequencies makes it look like white noise,” I reach for her control interface and activate the filter, “but if you focus on a single frequency, you see that your 'soul' has the same frequency as the nervous system of your body.”
Nova shakes her head. “It's just strange. It would mean that all my memories of previous lives are just that, memories. Pure information. There is no consciousness or guiding will. But I know that I have strong feelings about some of my memories. I always thought that my whole personality transcends to the next life.”
I deny her theory with a wave of my hand. “That's not true. Your soul is pure information storage. Once your body dies, it attaches to the next available nerve system which fits the criteria and isn't already connected to another soul. Normally, the information flow goes only from the body to the soul. In our case, we can access some of the information. The connection goes both ways.”
With a gesture, I draw her attention to the hologram. “Theoretically, it would be possible to develop a wholly different personality if you don't get to access your memories. But strong souls produce a feedback signal which returns memories and knowledge to the body. It's clear that those memories shape a child's personality once it is able to make sense of them. That’s why you are a result of your memories.”
She turns and looks at me. “Then what are the orbs and auras which you taught me to see.”
“Physical manifestations of the connection between your soul and your body. Very weak energy leaks,” I explain.
Nova turns away and studies the electromagnetic emitter which she created according to my instructions. It took us the whole night to create the necessary equipment to prove the basics of soul magic. “I understand your theory behind the reincarnation process. Continued existence allows the soul to strengthen and to gather power, along with memories and experience. Death of the body weakens a soul, since it has to attach to a new body, attuning itself. The energy loss is equal to lost information, since a soul is, per definition, pure information. That explains why a long and prosperous life allows access to more information and grants strength.”
She turns to face me. “But what happens if soul and body are perfectly attuned?”
I shrug. “I don't have all the answers and I've never met someone who achieved such a high level of synchronisation. Maybe you will find out at some point? I see my research as the first step to unlocking even greater secrets. Young scientific civilisations think that E=mc² is the holy grail of physics. Once they stumble over quantum mechanics, they realize that their perfect formula has a few flaws and only applies to a certain set of circumstances.”
Nova nods slowly. “I'll have to go over everything a second time, but I have the records of our work. You also mentioned that you would teach me some physical applications.”
“Yes! Finally! Let's start with something easy, yet powerful.” I draw my epee and present it to Nova. “This should be easy for you. We'll enchant an item to automatically curse a target, draining their soul's power and raising their bodies! It's one of my favourites! Then we will try our luck with mental links and telepathy. That's a very important skill if you fight other people like us.”
She tilts her head, clearly wary of my weapon. “Why?”
I place the thin blade of my epee on my shoulder. “Think about it. The only thing which permanently hurts us, is a mental attack on our souls. Or even easier, on the connection between the soul and the body. You could get reduced to a mere mortal who has to exist without memories. Losing the battle for survival isn't the same as losing the battle for existence.”
Janice's words motivate me to get a good grasp on soul magic. The field includes a whole set of very useful skills. I shut up and listen to every piece of knowledge this woman is willing to share. There are some blank spots in her theory, but she is aware of that and even encourages me to come to my own conclusions. That's a good thing and it makes her a good mentor.
When we finally emerge from my workshop, both of us look like corpses. Janice takes a look outside the window and realizes that the sun is already setting. She excuses herself and returns to her quarters.
Remembering that we will soon arrive at the assassins' training camp, I decide to do the same. Further teaching sessions with Janice will have to wait until I've acquired my personal set of fairies.
I walk slower when Carmen decides to inspect a part of the wall. Joyce's accusations were ridiculous, but they planted the seed of doubt in my mind. It caused me to rethink everything that led to the betrothal. Carmen's clan was never an enemy of the Biralds, but they also weren't exactly friends. At the time of our betrothal, it looked like an alliance between our families would lead to a decisive advantage over the Atrachs.
Now, our people's influence within the human part of the Alliance is practically zero. We fled the battle with the Atrachs, proving to our king that we don't have the means to remain in a position of power.
It's not like I gave Carmen a reason to love me. Given the circumstances, it would be much more beneficial to her to renounce the arrangement in order to find a better match.
So why are Carmen's people still on our side? She swore to my parents that they are doing everything they can to influence the king, but what do they gain from this charade? We certainly won't be able to return once this is over. There is only one reasonable answer: access to Illum.
Next question. Why does someone need access to Illum?
Diplomatic relations are one possible answer. But to have those, Carmen would have to talk to people. Good connections are the basis for any diplomat and she does nothing of the sort. No. She is just scurrying around, studying everything on Illum with her scrutinizing expression.
Oh, she talks to people. But strangely enough, only to those who might allow her access to Illum's military areas. I grasp my hand and rub the ring which I got from Joyce. How much does Carmen know? Is she aware of the command rings? She is clearly searching for something.
Carmen disappears around a corner, so I quicken my steps. If she chooses one of the stairways to the upper levels, I could lose her in a mass of people. It will be hard to find her again. Joyce didn't give me the rights to use Illum's observation capabilities. With them, it would be much easier to find out what my fiancée is really up to.
Turning around the corner, I find an empty corridor in front of me. We are on one of Illum's lower floors. Nobody comes down to this level, unless they have to. There is more than enough space on the higher levels.
So where did Carmen go?
I quickly check on the illusion which makes me harder to see. No. Seems like everything is in order. It's unlikely that I was spotted. I grumble and advance slowly, checking the empty rooms left and right of the corridor.
Suddenly, a sharp pain erupts from my back. Cursing, I turn around and swing my fist at whoever attacked me. My arm swings through empty air. Turning, I search for the source of the attack and fumble for the pain in my back. The room tilts and I drop one knee. My hand comes to rest on what feels like the hilt of a dagger.
“I wouldn't pull that out. It’s likely that I nicked a kidney. You will bleed out in no time.”
I recognize Carmen's voice. She sounds cool and collected. After a few moments of consideration, I reach for the handle and concentrate on a healing spell, but the magical energies escape my grasp. “Carmen? What did you do?”
“I took advantage of your superiority complex. You aren't the only one who can weave an illusion to hide. Such spells always create small distortions when you move. I had the advantage of standing still, while you ran right into my trap.”
The pain slowly dissipates and is replaced by a numb feeling. My whole body feels like lead. Unable to stay upright, I fall forward onto my face. “Waaah...” Even my tongue feels like a swollen potato and everything is spinning.
“Don't worry. I coated the dagger with curare and a strong truth serum. Of course, not enough to kill you immediately.”
The corridor blurs and I feel myself being dragged. The walls close in on me and try to squash me. Time passes. At the edge of consciousness, I feel myself answering questions. Time seems endless and the same questions are asked again and again. At last, the effect of the poison lessens.
“Are there plans for more weapons?” Carmen's voice echoes loud through the room.
“Do you know her plans for the Sociocrathy?”
“What will she do in regards to her heritage as a Mirai?”
“No.” I try to get up, but I feel so weak. There is a puddle of blood under me. Is this how it ends? With a dagger in my back?
Carmen clicks her tongue and steps forward, pulling the ring from my finger. “The effect is weakening.”
I reach for her, but she slaps my hand away. “Just lie down and die. Your people are traitors through and through. I don't know what I expected when I was sent here.” Squinting her eyes at me, her features change, turn more manly. More like me. Her clothes also transform and she… I... turn and leave without looking back.
I get to my knees and crawl after her, creating a trail of blood. Back in the corridor, I somehow manage it back to my feet. My back burns and my clothes are wet from my hot sweat. Stumbling forward, I reach the stairway and take one agonizing step after the other. My magic is still not back when I reach the surface and stumble past shocked civilians.
Screaming commands, I try to warn the guards at the tower. But my voice is raw and my throat is dry. I can’t even understand myself.
Someone tries to stop me, but I reject the helping hand. Reaching the tower, I bark at the guards, and together, we head towards the hangar. The door opens and I stumble into the large hall.
Carmen’s smug expression is the last thing I see of her, before the tear-shaped attack fighter shoots out of the hangar’s blast door. It spins and alarms howl, but I feel too numb to care and drop to my knees. What did I do? She knows everything. Will they shoot her down?
Someone pats my head and ruffles my hair. I look up to find Joyce looming above me. She studies me with a tired expression on her face. Then her lips part to show perfect, white teeth and the corners of her mouth curl upwards into an evil grin.