“Sometimes it’s better to regard someone as neither foe, nor friend.”
Zane looks at me and grins. “If it grows any larger, it won’t be able to fit.”
I turn and glare at Zane after taking a look at the kitten. Luficer is looking out of my pocket, studying our surroundings with great interest. Even though I know exactly what Zane means I decide to play dumb, so I reply loud and clearly, “I know that ‘it’ grows larger, but I can hardly believe that a normal man like you can get too large for a woman.”
Several heads turn as some of the people in the crowd focus their attention on us. The World Assembly is in full swing. It’s getting harder and harder to find a private spot, aside from returning to Illum.
Zane stops smiling. “You know exactly that I meant that cat of yours.”
“His name is Lucifer and he will grow quickly, now that we are bonded. I am feeding him more than enough energy through our link.” I pet the kitten’s head, but Lucifer meows in protest as my hand obstructs his view. He is now big enough to look out of the largest pocket of my robe.
During the last couple of days, he started growing rapidly. When I got him he was small enough to fit into my palm, but now I have trouble hiding him even in my largest pockets. And they aren’t small pockets since I insist that even my official robes and dresses have a certain utility. Soon, I’ll either have to keep Lucifer in my office, or I have to allow him to run free.
Maybe I should try to train him before an accident happens.
“Whatever.” Zane turns his attention towards the crowd which is surrounding us. We are patrolling through Illum’s area, checking the progress of our efforts. I tried to delegate as much work as possible, but as always, a large group of people needs a few harsh words from time to time. Preferably coming from the highest power in command.
I must say that my plan of representing Illum in a positive light worked out fine. Our relationship with the other powers might not be the best, but people are flocking to our exhibition area nonetheless. Aside from the buffet, which has always a high amount of visitors, the various stands which are presenting our offers are well frequented.
According to Fae and Tristen, most of the visitors are free agents of powerful merchant families who bought themselves a place on an airship. Those people aren’t bound as tightly to the political policies of the various nations.
At first, I was surprised to hear about such a practice. I was under the impression that the World Assembly is a purely political event. As I had to learn, that’s certainly not the case. Many rich merchants with good connections pay a lot of money for a place on an airship. They aren’t only interested in trade and new opportunities. It’s equally important for them to learn about the latest political developments between the various nations.
As always, war, natural disasters, and money are tightly interwoven things.
I reach up and play with a strand of my hair, wondering if I can use those free agents to further my own agenda. It would have to be something which gathers a lot of attention. They will go home and tell a tale about the new power which, while small, can challenge the well-known players and get away with it.
At the same time, I have to be careful not to cause instant retaliation against Illum. Well, if I make the right move it will strengthen Illum’s position as an independent power.
Taking my time, I study the type of people who decided to visit us. Most of them are well dressed, though not as gaudy as the nobility. While most of them don’t show any sign of their political affiliation, some are clearly recognizable. They flash their national colours around in order to show off.
Others chose more neutral outfits. I suppose that most of the merchants in weaker positions decided to visit us under the cloak of anonymity. A merchant from the Sociocrathy might get into serious trouble if he is caught trading with Illum.
I have seen too many wars to believe that the Sociocrathy is able to shut down all their trade with us. Even if they don’t buy from Illum directly, they will have to go through proxies. Otherwise, they will lose out on the new stuff which my people are going to introduce to the world. The spacial chests are already changing the economy all over the world. Suddenly, it’s far easier to transport wares across long distances. This results in dropping prices, which raises the living standard of peasants and allows them to gain a higher education.
The most important thing which Illum has to offer is knowledge and education. Of course, there will also be negative effects. Initially, many people will lose their jobs and fall into poverty. I am willing to pay the moral price of being responsible, even if the victims might see me as the one who is to be blamed.
What’s important is the long game. As the power between the general populace and royalty shifts, slavery will turn into a thing of the past. Nobody wants to be a slave, so it’s natural for most people to work against it. Especially if it means being ruled by an artefact like a slave collar. Slavery is only possible because the slavers have the power to break and control a large group of people. Take away the difference in power, and slavery will naturally become a thing of the past.
The process will be hard for the Empire. It will mean the destruction of their culture… Can’t say that it bothers me.
My attention is drawn to a group of four muscular men. They are large and have green skin with huge muscles rippling beneath it. The crowd parts like water in front of them. Surprised, I realize that they must be the orks. My memories tell me that orks are large brutes who have more in common with animals than with intelligent beings.
Seems like this world’s version of them breaks with the normal preconception. Their clothes look decent enough, even if they are made out of leather and fur. A glance is enough to tell that a skilled craftsman made the outfits.
They don’t even look that bad. Weren’t it for the large tusks and the green skin, they could be mistaken as humans. Human bodybuilders who ate too many steroids. Urgh...
If I had thought about it earlier, I probably wouldn't be surprised. The orks arrived in their own airships. Even if the ships look like flying trash-cans, maintaining them without enough resources must have been very difficult. It speaks of intelligence and skill.
Zane leans closer and breaks the silence between us. “I wonder what they want, but I assume that you already know?”
I shake my head. “Why should I know? In this life, I have never even seen an ork.” It’s true. I also know that Zane already suspects me of being responsible for the weapon shipments. But I have no idea why the orks would seek me out. If my agents didn’t make a grave mistake, even the orks must think that the weapons came from the Empire.
Which they did. It’s just that the weapons were bought and shipped by a third party.
The orks reach us and their leader smiles at me, revealing a set of sharp canines. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Nova. I am Gork, the head ambassador of the Tribe.” His words are easily understandable. He speaks the same tongue as the rest of the world, though I can tell that the large teeth create problems with the right pronunciation. Unless their whole race is willing to put up with this inconvenience, the orks must have their own language.
I smile. “Hello, Gork. It’s nice to meet you. I must admit that I have no idea of the correct protocol when it comes to dealing with your people.”
The ork nods. “That’s not a problem. Today, we only paid a visit to introduce ourselves, but the world will see a lot more of us in the future.”
Zane raises an eyebrow. “Really?”
Gork hits his own chest with a gigantic fist. It’s clearly a gesture to show that he is confident of his claims. “Whatever the Sociocrathy might have told you, be assured that the war isn’t going so well for them, now that we have weapons. Their soldiers turned weak after years of hiding behind their battlements. Admittedly, they destroyed several of our warbands with their airships, but we already took one of their fortresses and destroyed four others. The stranglehold which they had on our people is broken and it’s just a question of time until we get our lands back. Harsh times are ahead of them.”
Seems as if he is trying to sell me something. “That’s good for your people. I am not a diligent student of history, but I know enough to say that the Sociocrathy has no right to a large part of their lands.”
Gork grins. “Your people were also driven away from their homeland, and I heard that you are in conflict with the Sociocrathy.”
I shrug. “I know what you want to say, but Illum has no desire to enter an open war against the Sociocrathy. If they force me to fight, then Illum will teach them that we are not to be messed with, but neither Illum – nor the Mirai – have the resources to establish a strong presence on the mainland.”
The ork grunts. “The Sovereign said something similar. It’s sad that you aren’t willing to lend us your assistance against a mutual enemy.” He turns his attention to one of the show pieces. It’s just a hovering plate of metal. The enchantments on it hold it afloat with force magic. Nothing extraordinary by itself, but the educated eye will notice that the power consumption is too low for the traditional ritualistic enchantments which are used on airships. “Illum could be a great help.”
“There are enemies, and there are enemies. We simply have different priorities at the moment. Though, it doesn’t mean that we exclude your people from our services.” I gesture at the stand where my two pupils are handing out flyers. “Illum has no reason to treat you any differently than our other trading partners. Be it knowledge or goods, what you seek, you will get.”
Gorks’s nasty grin turns wider. “That’s good to know.”