“A fool thinks that his education is over when school ends. The wise know that learning never ends.”
***Assassin Training Camp***
“Hm. Hm.” I step over one of the many bodies which are littering the camp. Only a few of the younger trainees survived the attack. I had the honour of observing the attack on the assassin training camp from my flagship. Or should I call it a massacre?
Right after Nova and her team fought their way into the grotto, the first pilots left Illum with their fighter jets. They bombarded the camp with their cannons until it was clear that the last organized resistance was broken.
Afterwards, Nova's newly equipped ground troops went in and took control of the ground. I can't say that she has a lot of them, but what she has is equipped well. “Very good. Though, they could've left a few more bodies in one piece. Those force cannons really make a mess when they hit the target.”
Zane coughs. “How can you say that? This was nothing more than cold-hearted murder! They never had a chance!”
I turn my attention to Nova's newest recruit. Nova assigned him as my guide when I expressed the wish to study her handiwork. At first, I thought that it would work out, but this guy seems to be a little too idealistic for my taste. “You are an odd one. Why are you even in the military if this” - I gesture at the battlefield - “discomforts you?”
He huffs. “I know that my ideals might seem high and mighty. It's just that I abhor her methods. Joyce had the upper hand. More men, more equipment. She could have taken most of them alive.” He surveys the scene, the craters, the destroyed buildings, the bodies.
I admit that it wasn't much of a fight, so I study him for a long moment. “You are right... and wrong.”
Zane looks at me. “What do you mean?”
“What if she had taken them alive? Should she have given them prison sentences?” I chuckle. “This is a harsh world. Nobody would have accepted to share Illum's precious resources with murderers and enemies. Nova used the chance to give her new fighter pilots a little easy training. The guards also got battle experience, something they will need in the future.”
“You are right about that. Our people needed a chance to use the new equipment in a real combat to get a feeling for it. We still lost a few. There would have been more casualties in a real battle.” Zane clenches his teeth and looks at one of the barracks. “Some of their new recruits were not older than ten!”
I roll my eyes.
Unfortunately, he notices it. “I probably should have known that the Mirai don't have concerns about killing the innocent. The reports said that you bombarded entire villages during your campaign against the Empire.”
Smiling, I turn towards the man who is supposed to be nothing more than my guide. Yet, he seems to be fixated on starting a discussion about morals.
“Zane, you are aware that we, the Mirai, are at war with the Empire?”
He furrows his forehead. “Of course.”
“Then allow me to educate you on the true meaning of war. War is the use of violence to get an opponent to do your bidding. It's to be used after diplomacy fails to achieve a satisfying compromise. The Empire and the Sociocrathy intend to wipe out my people, even after we fled over the sea. They won't stop at anything to achieve that goal, something which they proved to me again and again.
“You are too young to see the great picture in a war, which I fought for centuries. Be glad that you had the chance to grow up during a relatively peaceful period. It's admirable that there are still areas in this world which allow people to develop a moral code like yours. But I have to think of my people. I'll use any degree of violence I deem necessary to protect my island.”
Again, he doesn't budge, but maybe he sees me in a different light. “I still fail to see why you bombarded innocent civilians.”
Tilting my head, I study him. “Zane, my intelligence network informed me that you are a bright young man.” He cringes at the thought that I know more about him than he might like. But I don't care about his feelings, so I continue, “Civilians are the backbone of a society. Each of the fishing villages which were attacked by my fleet provided large amounts of food-stocks for the Empire.
“I won't deny that it felt good to take revenge on those who side with my enemy, but there was logic to the madness. We aren't yet strong enough to attack the Empire directly. Getting caught, or losing a lot of our ships on their territory would prove disastrous. Our attacks forced them to respond and drew out some of their forces. They gathered most of the airships they have in the area and tried to intercept us.”
His expression shows that he didn't hear about that. “What happened?”
“We destroyed them,” I answer. “The Empire's northern coastline is now weakened. They lost most of their defences. If they reinforce them, they will have to redistribute forces from other parts of the Empire. Accidentally, their weakened coastal area is a perfect breeding ground for the rebels who are currently in the process of infiltrating the Empire. I admit that I didn't know about this new development at the time, but I am not opposed to it. From my perspective, I crippled the Empire's ability to launch an immediate attack on my country. I don't doubt that it would've happened sooner or later.”
He grumbles. “I hope that you are aware that this will most likely end in a war. Some people within the Alliance are already pressing for war. Once they hear about this, they will get yet another argument in their favour.” Zane shakes his head and focuses his attention straight forward. We walk silently for a few minutes.
I have the feeling that Zane is trying to make up his mind about me. Does he intend to tell me something?
Suddenly he says, “Your granddaughter will like the development.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Oh? What leads you to believe that?”
He looks at me. “I want to strike a deal with you.”
Now that is indeed interesting. “You? A deal with me? I realize that we were speaking very casually with each other, but I am still the Mirai Sovereign. Twenty of my best guards are watching each step we make.”
He nods. “It goes against my principles. But as you said, this world forces people to be flexible. Since you seem to be so knowledgeable about my circumstances, I will be blunt. I want to pull down Joyce's mask. That's also why I volunteered to be your guide. It gave me an opportunity to talk with you.”
I scratch my head, wondering what this guy is up to. Do I have to inform Nova that there is an untrustworthy person in her ranks? “That sounds like-”
Zane interrupts me, “Nothing of the sort. I thought about this long and hard. I have a very definite contract with your granddaughter and I will never betray her. Yet, there are things about her which need explanation. I'll share nothing with you which isn't already public knowledge. In fact, I can't betray her without serious repercussions for me and my people. I can't even talk openly about my suspicions.”
“That sounds strange. What exactly are you offering, if it's not information?”
He looks up at Illum. “I chose to involve you, because you are the only possible option. Joyce declared you an ally of Illum and you are practically family to her, even if she wouldn't say that herself. According to my contract with her, that allows me a little more leeway with you, despite the fact that you are outside her sphere of influence.”
I consider his words and decide to listen to him. His contract must be worded very carefully if only my 'special' circumstances allow him to talk to me. “Listening never hurts.”
“Good. Then allow me to start with something like the date of Orwen's destruction and Joyce's appearance in the mountains...” He continues to talk for several minutes, drawing my attention towards certain events. None of his information is new to me. Yet, the way he presents it paints Joyce in a totally different light.
I stay silent long after he shared his thoughts with me. We keep walking through the camp and continue to walk around it after reaching the northern end. Finally, I scratch my chin and nod slowly. “Your thoughts are certainly appreciated. I can see where you are going with this. Sadly, I must say that it doesn't change what I'll do.”
Zane almost doubles over. “What!? You do realize that I just informed you that someone, if not Joyce herself, is steering the world towards total war!”
I shrug. “And? What does it matter?”
He deflates. “I should have known.”
I close my eyes. “Zane, Zane. You are too nice for your own good. I appreciate what you intend to do, but this world will always suffer under people like Nova and me. We are far too old and knowledgeable to accept being controlled by anyone. I even bet that Nova was listening to every word we just spoke.”
He looks around. “That's impossible. We even left Illum for this discussion.”
I point at his hand. “The ring. What makes you believe that it only allows you control over some of Illum's powers? But don't worry. If you are lucky, she will never listen to this discussion. I doubt that she has the time to monitor all of her people twenty-four-seven.”
A long string of really imaginative curses escapes Zane.
Smiling, I poke his upper arm. “Let's talk about something else. You know, I was really happy when I heard that 'you' volunteered to be my guide.” I wink at him.
He pulls away from me. “What do you mean? Please don't forget that you are the Mirai Sovereign!”
“Oh, I am! That's exactly why I can be so bold. Don't pretend that you know nothing about the rumours. They are all over Illum since your ex caused that scene in public.” I poke him again, revelling in his facial expressions. This guy is really expressive when his guard comes down. Now I know why Nova shows so much interest in him. Teasing him is fun! “Are you really her boy-toy? She told me that she doesn't want children, but if she takes you to bed there is still hope.”
“Of- of- No!”
Seems like I have to be a little more forceful. “Don't lie to me, boy! You nailed my granddaughter! Didn't you!? Do you intend to join the Mirai line?”
He gasps and pales. “Not so loud! What if someone hears you!? And it wasn't like that at all!”
I pull at my ear and consider him. “It's a little sad that you will never be a match for her. You are smart and you clearly try to think several moves ahead. That's something you don't get just from military training.” I shake my head. “She is clearly several levels above you in terms of strategy and conspiracies. You will never catch up to her.”
Zane squints his eyes at me. “What do you mean?”
I look up at the sky. “Just that. Nova has access to the memories of her previous lives. You are hopelessly outmatched. May it be education or life experience. It seems like you can't compensate for that with just your intellect.”
I interrupt him. “Isn't a religion. It's the truth. Why should I lie to you? It isn't the Mirai's fault that everyone else is wrong. Look up at Illum. Do you think that a simple slave could create something like it?”
He looks up. I can almost see the gears turning inside his head. Then he studies the ground, thinking. “That's preposterous! How can this be true!?”
“Yeah, nobody believes it. That's why most of the reincarnated never bother to talk about it. It's too much trouble to convince the people around you.” I cross my arms behind my back and study the plant life outside the camp. Most of it is thick underbrush.
“How can I catch up to her?”
“I don't accept that! You are seriously telling me that Joyce has access to the memories of several lifetimes? That's why she is so knowledgeable? I can't accept that I'll be forever under her thumb! Tell me how to unlock those memories.”
Raising an eyebrow I return my attention to him. “There are ways. Certain training methods. But no. Nova won't be happy if you end up dead. She will hold it against me.”
He grabs my shoulder and stops me. I admit that I am a little shocked about his boldness. Should I rip out his arm for touching the Sovereign? I stop and confront him.
“Tell me. I'll be the judge whether the risks are acceptable or not.” He looks straight into my eyes.
We stand there for over a minute, measuring each other.
“I'll admit that you have guts for touching the Sovereign like that.”
Realizing what he did so casually, he deflates with my words. I am still the ruler of a nation and he is just some noble. Grinning, I glare at him for several moments.
“But I admit that might be fun if Nova has a subordinate who isn't completely outmatched.”