“There are some extremists who argue that war is a form of cultural exchange.”
Zane is wise enough not to challenge me when I drop the privacy sphere. I smile and link arms with him, pretending that nothing is amiss. He clearly wants to argue, but this is neither the place nor the time and he knows it.
We travel through the Sociocrathy's area, but where the other powers tried to woo their visitors with wealth, food, and games, the Sociocrathy took an entirely different path. It takes me a while to comprehend their intentions, but once Zane reminds me of their religious zeal, everything becomes clear. They turned their area into a shrine for their god, hoping to spread the word about their one true deity. Accordingly, their area is much less frequented than the ones I got to see so far. “A bunch of fanatics who refuse to look beyond the horizon,” I complain. “I wonder why I didn't notice it when I visited Jebli Port.”
“Jebli Port is one of their major trading ports. Even they can't prevent ideas from spreading in such a highly frequented city. They also realize that the suppression of freedom doesn't increase their wealth, so they hold their leash much looser in large trading locations. It's also about creating a better image towards their trading partners,” Zane explains in a subdued tone.
His words make sense. So the Sociocrathy's clergy fell victim to the same greed which corrupts every powerful leader. They preach and reach out with one hand, while they pocket the money with the other. I have seen religious groups which managed to control the masses without substantial financial backing, but they always had a strong enemy who could be used as a scapegoat.
The Sociocrathy had that when they fought the orks and the Mirai, driving them off their land. Without a clear enemy for the common folk, they had to find another way of staying in control.
I study a statue of their god when I catch the eyes of a priest. He seems to recognize me. Consequently, he doesn't look pleased. The man scurries away, pulling his overly long white robe after him.
“I think that we should walk faster,” whispers Zane. He noticed the priest too.
I straighten my back and smile. “Don't worry. We are the ones who are in the right.”
“I wouldn't rely on who is right or wrong. You said yourself that they are fanatics and we offend their idea of how the world should look like.” Zane studies the people around us. The Sociocrathy decorated their area with a lot of statues and pillars, walling themselves off. They clearly tried to create something like a Greek temple.
An unfortunate fact about their decorations is that all this junk provides a good shield against spying and prying eyes, so it's not surprising when Zane and I walk around a statue and find ourselves suddenly walled in by several priests and paladins. Zane curses and reaches for his sword, but we are surrounded and outnumbered by over a dozen opponents. They carry an amazing collection of weapons and armour, seemingly oblivious of the fact that they are at a neutral event which is held for the sake of peace and understanding.
One of the priests steps forward, a smug expression on his face. “Put down your weapons and surrender, heretics.”
“Why should we? Someone will pass by and witness this scene. You will be in a lot of trouble with the other powers,” Zane replies, but he doesn't draw his sword.
The priest isn't impressed. “Nobody will notice. You are caught within a reality maze. We closed it off as soon as you entered. You committed a grave mistake when you entered our area. Nobody will help you, so give up now. You will pay for what you did to one of our cities. The Sociocrathy doesn't like to lose face in front of its citizens.”
What a pile of self-righteous assholes. Of course, they only see what I did to them and not what they intended to do to me. And they really caught us inside a space time bubble? Wow. Good work! I didn’t even realize that we walked into a trap. How did they do it? “It makes your citizens much harder to control,” I interject and raise my hand, which results in several paladins aiming their crossbows at me.
Their weapons should be loaded with barrier penetrating ammunition at the very least.
I smile and try to make eye-contact with each of them before I slip my hand into my robe's pocket. My movements are slow and deliberate while I keep my hand away from the hilt of my rapier. “Don't be so twitchy and relax. I doubt that we can fight all of you at once.”
“Is that so?” The priest snorts. “I read the reports. You went hand to hand with a group of paladins. I wouldn't put it past you to try it again. Be aware that these warriors are our finest. Surrender.”
Zane looks around, searching for an escape route. He is clearly nervous.
I chuckle. “Why should I surrender to a group of thieves and slavers who don't even try to negotiate for what they want? Tell me, oh mighty priest, did it never occur to you that it might be a bad thing to lock yourself with me inside a private area where you aren't protected by the witnesses of other powers?”
Zane raises his hands. “Stop! Peace and love! I am sure that we can talk like civilized people about any issue we might have with each other. We are all adults!”
A flicker of doubt appears in the priest’s eyes, just a moment before his protective barrier flares up in a brilliant flash of white light, and then breaks. The nine millimetre bullet lands right between his eyes. The back of his head bursts apart like a ripe melon and he jerks to the side. His twitching is nothing more than a last protest of his body’s nerves.
The priest is dead before he hits the floor.
I raise the gun which I drew from the pocket inside my robe. It barks three times before the paladins and priests get over their shock. Each time, a man falls despite barriers and heavy armour.
They let loose their crossbow bolts and I shove Zane to the side, drawing my rapier and activating my barriers at the same time. All of the soldiers aimed at me, as I am the main target. My barriers flare, but they hold, despite the barrier-penetrating arrowheads.
A savage grin appears on my face when I realize that my modified barriers hold against their weapons. I keep shooting and parry a paladin's sword with my rapier when he manages to close the distance. Instead of duelling with a man who probably wielded his weapon for his entire life, I place a bullet in his guts and slash at his throat when he is too occupied with the pain to defend himself.
Zane isn't idle either. He wields his sword with unerring precision while he stacks one rune spell on top of another, turning himself into a fortress while the paladins rush against him like a tide.
It takes several precious seconds for the fanatics to realize that they are outclassed and outgunned. Ha! Pun intended. I am the only person with a gun!
Determination turns to fear and then to panic. My gun clicks uselessly as I aim it at the back of the last fleeing coward, the magazine with thirty bullets was emptied in less than ten seconds of actual battle.
“It took me over a day to hand-craft those bullets,” I complain and retrieve a spare magazine from my cleavage. I know that it's cliché to hide things between a woman's assets, but where else can a fashionable member of the female gender store large equipment? I rarely land on a world where women get to have useful clothes with lots of pockets.
I had to fight for this robe to have two large pockets, of which one is occupied by Lucifer and the other with my gun.
The little kitten stirs in order to take a look outside. Its head peeks out of the pocket. Lucifer squints dreamily at the scene of carnage, then he retreats back into the folds of my clothes, deciding that the ruckus has nothing to do with him.
Zane gets back to his feet. He is amidst a pile of cut up opponents. Sadly, I was too occupied to take a closer look at how he performed in this battle. Though, the pile of corpses is a good enough indication that my unwilling partner did a good job at protecting my back. “What the fuck is wrong with you!?” he screams.
“You performed admirably, Dr. Watson,” I quote and pocket the gun.
Zane surveys the scene and runs a hand through his hair. “They will kill us and take Illum!”
I roll my eyes. “They will do nothing of the sort. Come. We will simply walk away as if nothing happened. The Sociocrathy can’t accuse us of anything without incriminating themselves.”
I leave the scene quickly, Zane on my heels. After a few turns I feel confident that we left the reality maze.