“A play with a skilled puppeteer is a work of art. Add a second one to the mix and it gets interesting.”
“I still can't believe that they allowed us to walk away,” I mumble and let out a sigh of relief as we enter the Consortium's area. It doesn't mean that we are out of danger, but at least we are away from those who mean us immediate harm.
“It's like I said. They thought that they can take us silently and without witnesses. With that accomplished, they could deny that we ever entered their area. Maybe it would have even worked, depending on their influence with the other powers. Their plan failed the moment in which it became clear that they can't apprehend us without creating hundreds of witnesses.” Nova corrects the hem of my shirt, smiling. She acts if nothing is wrong.
“You killed the priest,” I reply in a defiant voice. “Why do you always resort to violence when the negotiations don't go your way?”
“Violence is the easiest form of negotiation. Why should I bow down to someone who wishes me harm?” Nova raises an eyebrow. “It's not my fault. Negotiations are well and fine if there is a good reason to waste time with the other party. My enemies are at fault for creating situations in which I have no other choice but to fight. First, they tried to trick me with a slave collar. Now they attacked us like nothing more than petty thieves. I am really starting to dislike the Sociocrathy.”
I shake my head. “If you had given me a little more time to negotiate-”
She interrupts me, “We would've lost the initiative. I don't feel confident enough to allow enemies to surround me when I am not on Illum. This time it worked out. My gun surprised them so much that they lost their heads, but there was no guarantee for that. They could have easily had a trick of their own. In fact, they had one. Armour penetrating arrowheads. Luckily, the Consortium already used that one on me, so I wasn't caught off guard. The next time they will try something new.”
I shut my mouth, not sure of what to say. Nova took the brunt force of their initial attack. I saw how badly a single one of those arrowheads managed to hurt her when she was almost assassinated at the Alliance's council. Maybe I am wrong in taking her strength for granted. That first time, she wasn't prepared and got badly hurt.
Those arrowheads could've meant her death. She blocked at least ten projectiles.
“I am sorry.”
“What was that?”
“I won't repeat myself!” I shouldn't have apologized. She is still a bloodthirsty maniac.
Nova rolls her eyes and turns her attention to our surroundings. The Consortium's area is yet another break up with normal conventions. Like the Sociocrathy, they only care about furthering their own reputation by showing off what they are best at.
There are artefacts and inventions everywhere. None of them without price tags. They clearly think that this is a good way to show off their products.
We walk past a huge monster of a machine. My previous self wouldn't have recognized it, much like I wouldn't have been able to make sense of Nova's gun. But thanks to my new memories, I recognize the device as a magically powered steam engine. It's nothing impressive compared to some of Nova's inventions, but the beauty of this device is that no mages are needed to keep it going. The description clearly says so.
I let out a frustrated sound when I realize that the nobles of this world could have released this technology at any time. They didn’t do so in order to keep their control over the masses.
“This would revolutionize the world, were it allowed to become public knowledge.”
The voice of a man in a black suit draws my attention. He stepped out from behind the huge engine. His large and lean built is similar to mine, but his face is elongated, almost elven-like. Is he a half? The goatee which decorates his face hints at him being human. Half-elves don't have beards.
For a short moment, I am under the impression that he is wearing a metal glove on his right hand. Then I realize that he replaced it with an artificial limb.
He performs a perfect gentleman's bow. “I am glad to finally meet the one who destroyed my little monopoly on spacial chests. The Consortium's income plummeted after you started flooding the market. I was wondering who this extraordinary person with the name of Joyce is. Though, I heard that you changed it to Nova?”
The man tilts his head and considers us as if we are nothing more than bugs. He continues, talking to himself, “Rufus, I told myself, you have to be careful, Joyce must be another reincarnated, just like you.”
Rufus furrows his forehead and turns his attention from Joyce to me. “I expected her to be another reincarnated, but I didn't expect to encounter two new faces. What's your name, boy?”
Did that bastard just call me a boy?
“I don't think that's any of your business.” Nova reaches into her pocket and smiles. “And I also don't believe that this is about money. As a reincarnated, you could find all sorts of ways to earn a fortune. All you have to do is to introduce new concepts to this world.”
I know that she is aiming her gun at the man who is clearly yet another reincarnated. Though, the man either doesn't realize the danger, or he doesn't see us as a threat.
Nova tilts her head, also a little taken aback by his behaviour. “The Sovereign said that she doesn't know who is pulling the strings behind the consortium. Why do you reveal yourself just like that?”
Rufus shrugs. “Oh, she knows me. Am I wrong, Janice?” He turns his attention towards a spot slightly to our left. “I had much more to learn by coming here.”
I try to look at the spot, but something forces my eyes to the side. It's extremely uncomfortable to focus my attention on the area. Without it being pointed out, I didn't realize what was going on, but now that I know where to look it's fairly obvious. Someone combined an illusion spell with subtle mind magic in order to turn almost invisible. Suddenly, the air shimmers and parts like a veil, revealing Janice and several of our companions.
Tristen, Fae and Kiara are right behind the Sovereign. Janice clicks her tongue in displeasure and takes a position next to us. “Rufus. I thought that you don't concern yourself with political schemes.”
He scratches himself behind his ear, eyeing us with squinted eyes. “Let's simply say that I have a vested interest in the Consortium. Most of my important operations are based in that country.” His eyes wander from me to Nova, and then to Janice. “So, it's like that, eh? An alliance of three. That clearly shifts the balance of power. The others won't like that. I think that it was worth my time coming here. Though, I admit that I expected to meet only one of us.”
“It depends,” Janice answers snappily. “I would say that the balance of power is restored, since I was clearly the victim of several people ganging up on me.”
Rufus pulls down the corners of his mouth. “Don’t whine like a little child. The fact that your people were driven off the main continent is owed only to the fact that you didn’t manage to foresee the tides of war.” He changes his attention to Nova. “Though, your new allies don’t seem that strong. Maybe it’s better if you keep hiding on your island in the north.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Nova replies without hesitation. She is clearly irked by this man.
Rufus snorts. “Are you sure? Wasn’t the attempt on your life enough to show you that you should better stay out of this entire affair? Be assured, you don’t know half of the power plays between the various factions. You aren’t experienced enough to butt in with your manipulations. Everyone with half a brain can see that you are trying to spark a world war.”
I tense when I realize that Rufus just told Nova to her face that he saw through her plans. Looking around, I check for bystanders. To my relief, most people are giving us a lot of room. They are smart enough to stay away from suspicious characters.
But Nova just smiles, totally content. “I already dealt with the assassins who dared to take a job which aims at my life. Rest assured that I will deal with their employer as soon as the time and place feels right. And if you are so sure of my plans, feel free to thwart them.”
The smug expression on his face disappears. “I will.” He turns around and his body blurs into his surroundings, disappearing.
Janice crosses her arms in front of her chest. “I hate it when he does that.”