“Some called her mad. Others worshipped her like a god. History would call her a changer of the world.”
I throw a quick glance behind me, but the prince and his advisor seem too baffled by Nova's strange behaviour. Standing next to me, she is still giggling, plotting something in her shrewd mind. There is excitement and a maniacal determination in her eyes. I half guide, half drag her along the path and into the Sociocrathy's area.
We somehow managed to pass through the Empire’s part of the island. Being on the Sociocrathy’s soil isn't much of an improvement, but right here on the border between the two areas, we are in a grey zone. There are very few people who would bother us here.
Once it's clear that the prince didn’t follow us and that we aren’t being approached by someone else, I return my attention to Nova. Her eyes are focused on the ground and she is whispering something, caught up in her own world. I try to gain her attention. “Could you explain what's going on? Why did you behave like a maniac in front of a prince of the Empire?”
She looks at me. “I think that I did very well, given the circumstances. The urge to kill them right then and there was overwhelming. Do you think that Hesh recognized me?”
I consider her words and shake my head. She didn’t make any sense. I am definitively missing vital information. “I think that he was too puzzled about your behaviour. Touching him out of nowhere, pinching his cheek like an old grandma would do to a grandchild. Not even peasants do that to a stranger. Who the hell is he to you? How do you know him?”
Nova bites her lower lip. She is clearly regretting her behaviour, but what’s done is done. “Touching him wasn't smart. Even if he didn't recognize me, he is bound to think about my comments after such a scene. I clearly lost it a little. We have to modify our plans accordingly. He will expect that I want his head on a pike.”
I spread my hands in desperation. “I don't understand. What are you talking about? Please, have mercy on me. I can't read your mind.”
She surveys our surroundings, seemingly suspicious of something. Then she performs a set of complicated gestures, manipulating her mana with her hands and her mind at the same time. That’s something I have never before seen her do. What kind of spell is complicated enough to require such a level of precision? I have seen Nova casting large spells without much effort, so this is without precedent.
A blue bubble spreads from her hands. It brushes over our bodies, enveloping us completely. I feel the light brush of the forcefield. It isn’t strong, but much denser than typical barriers. Airtight? From one moment to the next, we are in complete silence. The people around us are just blurred shapes. Is this an intentional effect of the spell? Being suddenly cut off from the event’s noise allows me to realise how annoying such parties are.
“It's a privacy sphere. Now we can talk without being overheard,” she explains solemnly.
“Good.” I huff and try to smile. “Go on.”
“That man, Hesh. He was the one who sold me to my former master. The one I had to play the sex-slave for.” Her voice turns icy. “I'll kill him. Preferably slowly and painfully. I was a little too quick with Nemus, my former master. His death should have been slower. I'll do better with Hesh. Do you think that it's possible to skin someone alive?”
She furrows her forehead. “I think that one of my former selves knew how to do it. Mmh, yeah, I have to avoid cutting any major blood vessels. Otherwise, he will bleed out before I am done. I also need a large barrel with salt and a really powerful healing spell to keep him alive. It has to be restricted to the insides of his body, otherwise, the skin would regenerate. Oh, if I apply an imperfect version the salt will grow into the skin and it will fester...”
I stopped smiling halfway through her soliloquy. “Are you serious? Are you talking about abducting a former ambassador during the World Assembly? Then torturing him until he dies? You have no idea how much trouble that will cause. Everyone will treat us as free game!” She has lost it!
Nova nods. “Of course. That's why we won't do anything on the World Assembly. We will get them once they are heading home.”
I try not to laugh. Instead, I allow myself being sarcastic. “Oh, that's even less of a problem. Let's wait until they are back on their ships, where they are securely protected behind several barriers. Even if we manage to abduct them from their flagship, there will be tons of witnesses. And assuming that we manage to do it somehow… Nobody will find it strange that a high-ranking official of the Empire disappeared right after his visit to the World Assembly… Where ‘you’ acted very strangely towards him.”
She waves a hand, dismissing the idea. “Of course not. What are you thinking? There will be no witnesses.”
I stiffen. “What do you mean?”
“We have to wipe out the fleet. There can be no survivors who could report the deed.”
“You are going to kill hundreds because you want to get one man? What about the innocent slaves who will be with the fleet!?” I gesture in the direction of the Empire's area. “What about your own people? The people who trust in your leadership? Are you going to risk them for nothing more than revenge? I really don't understand you. On one side, you are a nice and benevolent person. You created something great on Illum and now you risk everything by attacking the Empire. Don’t we already have enough enemies? Do you even understand how unique Illum's society is? On the other side, you kill and destroy cities without twitching an eyebrow. The destruction of Laos took away the livelihood of thousands.”
I never saw it until I got to live among Illum's people. Within a few months, Nova changed a bunch of low-born people into a benevolent group of followers who accept anyone in their midst. Provided they follow the social rules. It isn't just about giving them higher living standards than they ever had. It's about how Nova is perceived as their ruler. For reasons I don't fully understand, she is seen as some kind of messiah. Maybe it's because she always tries to avoid contact with the general population. Hell! If she tried to be more in the limelight, she would be worshipped as a god.
Nova looks at me without showing any expression. “I think that you are misjudging my character, Zane. If it suits my goal, I am capable of slaughtering each and every one on Illum. I am not a good person. When I escaped my master, I also killed his children. They were nothing more than toddlers, but I took great delight in seeing his face when I told him that they would also perish. Do not question my goals or my determination, or you might get caught up in the wheels of my machinations.”
Is she threatening me!? And she just pretty much admitted that she destroyed Orwen. Does she know that I suspect her? If Janice is right, then Nova really can listen in on everything in Illum's vicinity. “You want to tell me that I am not already in it up over my head? You should listen to yourself. Forgive me, but listening to you sounds like listening to a megalomaniac!”
She furrows her forehead and, for a few moments, it seems like she is looking right through me. “Maybe you are right. I am a megalomaniac. But one who has the power and the mind to back up her actions. One way or another... I'll get my hands on Hesh.”