“There is only one grace in life… If death comes quickly and painlessly.”
Someone bangs his fist against the toilet's door. I try to ignore it, but the person in question is very insistent. When I don't react after three knocks, the impacts increase in strength until I notice the hinges coming loose.
“Stop that! Take another box!” I need this little haven in order to hide from 'her'.
An all too familiar female voice answers me, “You are my date for this fair. Do you intend to hide for the entire week? I warn you, I’ll wait in front of this stall until you come out. A human needs water sooner or later.”
I quickly clear my throat and try to alter my voice by muffling it with a hand. “I don't know what you are talking about. And isn't this the men's area? What is a woman doing in here?”
“Quit it. Do you really think that this stupid game works with me? I can sense my ring on your finger! Unless Zane was smart enough to take it off and give it to a random person or flush it down the toilet, you are Zane!” The banging resumes and a nail drops to the floor. The uppermost hinge is already freely hanging in the air, held by a single screw! She is really going to take down the fucking door.
I curse and check my ring. That was a serious oversight on my part, but what could I have done? Giving the ring away isn't an option. Not only would losing a second ring look stupid, it's still a control item for Illum. “Stop it! My trousers are down!”
“Like I care! I have already seen you with your trousers down. The sight isn't pretty, but it's certainly nothing new to me.”
I gasp, fumble with the lock and open the door quickly. My trousers being down was a lie. I was just hiding. For some stupid reason, I thought that Nova would be deterred by social rules. “Could you at least try to be a little less noisy about it?”
I glare at Joyce, or should I call her Nova? Hard to tell. It seemed like she wasn't happy about the contract with Janice.
She is clad in a golden robe which might be a little too tight on her chest, emphasizing her bust more than necessary. Her hair is bound in three ponytails and decorated with the same barrette which she is so fond of.
The sword on her waist is new. It's over a metre long and thin. There is a similar stone encased in the pommel as she has in her barrette. Nova is definitely gearing up for something. There is no way to tell what else she has hidden on her body. Not to mention that it's rude to carry weapons in this event.
Nova lowers her raised fist and crosses her arms in front of her chest. Unfortunately, I notice several other men who were disturbed by her sudden raid on the men's toilets. And they heard every word! Though, some are more interested in covering themselves. Just great!
She turns to look around, making eye-contact with one spectator after the other. “Just continue with your business. There is nothing interesting to watch here.”
I step outside and quickly leave the wooden building which was set up as the men's toilets. It’s probably going to revolutionize this world’s sanitary culture. Nova follows me with a smug expression. “I assumed that you would be reasonable once I paid you a personal visit.” Without asking, she links arms with me. “Where should we begin?”
My plan to hide on the toilets for the entire event clearly failed. In fact, it backfired. Now the rumours about a relationship between me and Illum's ruler will grow even worse. Maybe I should simply give up and try to become her consort? “I don't know what you mean.”
“Didn't you get the written orders to be my date? I even went so far as to hand them down through the proper chain of command. Who else on Illum would have a high enough rank to be my companion?”
Oh, yeah. I crumpled the papers and threw them into a trash bin. My first official orders were to be an escort. Nova really has no shame when it comes to using her position as Illum's absolute ruler. She tries not be too obvious about it, but when it serves her wishes, she isn't afraid of showing that she is a dictator.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath in order to calm down. “Okay. What do you want me to do?”
“Be my escort. Take me on a trip around the World Assembly. I want to see everything. Not necessarily meet a lot of people, but that will probably be unavoidable.”
Slowly opening my eyes, I start walking. Somehow I manage to ignore the glances which people throw at us. It will pass once we leave Illum's area. Fewer people will recognize us, so the level of attention will go down. The only thing we have to worry about is that the wrong people recognize us.
I just have to be professional about it. “The island is divided into several areas. The centre is neutral ground, while all the nations got assigned to areas around the centre. It looks like a pie-chart...” I ramble on, knowing perfectly well that I am telling nothing new to Nova. But it allows me to avoid a serious conversation. At least for a while.
We take the central walkway, which leads us away from Illum's area and in a circle around the whole island. Illum and the Mirai are located between the Alliance and the Consortium.
Since the Sociocrathy’s area is located behind the Consortium’s, I decide to take the path with the least risk of turning immediately into a catastrophe.
I point Nova away from the Sociocrathy. The Alliance shouldn't be too friendly towards us either, but at least we didn't destroy one of their cities, doing it in a manner which announces our deed to the whole world. That still makes me a traitor, though. I doubt that they will be happy about meeting a member of my house.
In fact, walking around the island is a terrible idea. We are asking for trouble! If not with the Alliance, then someone from the Sociocrathy or the Consortium will react badly to our presence. Maybe it would've been possible to send a representative or a nameless diplomat, but Nova earned herself a name.
And there is the Empire… I’ll have to deal with that once the issue comes up.
We leave Illum's area and enter the Alliance's section.
“You went so silent. Are you afraid of something?” Nova asks with a bemused expression on her face.
“Not really afraid, but I am worried,” I reply stiffly. “The World Assembly is supposed to be a neutral event without violence, but the idea often doesn't count for much.”
“Don't worry.” Nova pats my shoulder and smiles. “Janice is trailing us in order to lend assistance, should something extraordinary happen. She has Tristen, Fae, and Kiara with her. We have plenty of back-ups.”
“Then why do we have to expose ourselves in such a manner? It would be much safer to walk in a large group.” I try to smile and nod towards a random passer-by. I recognize him as one of the higher nobles beneath the human king. The man winces and quickly steps out of our way.
Nova answers cheerfully. “We want to find out who is willing to attack us openly. I have no illusions that anybody has cozy feelings towards Illum, but some might be more willing to use violence than others. I want to identify those individuals.”