“If you take, you also have to give.”
I fold my hands in front of my belly and regard Janice for a long time. During the last weeks, I have gotten to know her. She is a very rational person, but in this matter, her reasoning is very flimsy. It doesn’t sound like her, or at least, not as if she told me the whole story. “No. Not for such a weak reasoning. Now… tell me the real reason for this visit of yours.”
She smiles. “Because I want you to have children.”
“Okay. If you don’t want to talk, then the answer is no. Please leave my office. I have a lot of work to do.” I stand up, but Janice raises both hands to stop me.
“Wait. Wait! Okay! Here is the real reason.” She gestures for me to sit down.
So I sit down. Listening to my tutor doesn’t hurt. And I still want more lessons in soul magic from her. I have a feeling that it will take a long time for her to share everything she knows, even if she would teach me full time. “I am listening.”
She clears her throat. “The reason is actually a cultural thing. I assume that you noticed our ambassador’s… devotion to me?”
I nod. “He tried to downplay it in his explanations, but was very clear that your Mirai aren’t any less fanatic in their set of beliefs than the Sociocrathy.”
“Yeees… he is actually one of the moderate ones. There are plenty who see the members of my family as religious symbols. Religious symbols who may be mortal, but religious symbols nonetheless. Defenders of our people and our religion. It’s one of the cornerstones of Mirai culture.” Janice sighs.
I tilt my head. “And what does that have to do with me?”
“Everything!” Janice huffs. “When your mother was taken and her husband killed, it dealt a huge blow the bloodline’s credibility. As much as I would like it to be otherwise, the only ones who I have total control over are the undead. But the Mirai are more than their dead. We need people who are willingly turned into zombies.”
She waves her hand. “And for that, we need first class necromancers. Your bloodline is strong. It would be a waste if it ends with you. Not to mention, your return and the fact that you continue your mother’s line will shut up some of the nastier voices within my court. It wouldn’t undo the damage that was dealt to the bloodline’s image, but it would be a start.” She clears her throat. “It also helps that it seems like you are becoming a deity of your own.”
I roll my eyes, but don’t ignore her explanation. “So you are saying that it would give you additional leverage on your fellow countrymen. I am sorry, but I was under the impression that the Sovereign is something like a dictator?”
Janice wriggles her hand. “Not quite. I am more like the high priestess of an order. There are a lot of people who will jump at my commands, especially the army, but the living part of the population is quite a different story.”
I nod. “So you are concerned that people might lose faith in your leadership. And fewer devotees would result in less willing zombies for you.”
Janice waves her hand in denial. “Oh, getting corpses for zombies isn’t a problem. The problem lies in getting them fresh and undamaged enough to create sentient undead. It’s vital for the people to invite a priest into their homes when someone is about to die. If there is any doubt in the necromancers, then the willingness to be turned into an undead will plummet. After all, it includes a long time of service to the nation.”
“And turns you into a slave to a master you might not agree with.” I scowl, showing her that I understand quite well what the undead actually are.
She nods, showing me that she understands my doubts. “We never order them to do something unreasonable. Most stay with their families and work for their relatives' benefits. The real issue is that we Mirai depend on our undead as soldiers. As it is, we need everything we can get. Especially if your machinations come to fruition.”
I look down at my knees and play with one of the spikes on my tiara. The Mirai and the Sovereign were never a part of my plans. But it turns out that she might be a natural ally of mine. One who might be able to help me in case that my plans need some adjustments. I’ve played with the thought, but the issue remains that children are a pain in the ass. Dealing with motherhood is a tough job. One which I don’t want to bother myself. At least not without some additional benefits.
“If I do this I’ll require payment. Whatever you might say, this isn’t a part of our original agreement. I promised to do my best to help your daughter, even if her state might be hopeless. I still believe that meeting her might be worse than staying away. Helping you with keeping the status quo within your country, that’s something quite different.”
She presses her lips together and leans forward. “What do you want?”
Hm. That’s the same question the shadows always ask their minions in that old science fiction show. What was the name? Damn. It seems like I have forgotten it.
I return my attention to my grandmother. “I want a favour.”
“A favour?” Janice asks, cautiously.
I point at her. “In the course of the coming war, I may ask something of you, and your Mirai and you will do it, even if you don’t like it. No questions asked, no hesitation.”
Janice pulls down the corners of her mouth. “That sounds very much like a deal with the devil. I won’t do anything that might harm those who are under my protection.”
Leaning forward, I place my elbows on the table. “I won’t ask you anything that might betray your people, though it might get some of them killed in the line of their duty.”
She nods. “If they die in the line of their duty, then that’s okay. I didn’t become the leader of a nation without understanding the need for sacrifices. Though I advise you to word your request very carefully. It sounds like you are walking on a knife’s edge.”
I spread my hands, palms towards her, and smile. “That will be my problem. So, why Zane? Don’t you have someone from the bloodline who would be a worthy father for the breeding program?”
Janice seems to be taken aback for the first time in our conversation. She answers slowly and very carefully. “I think that Zane will do. He has a lot of magical potential, knows about us, and you find him agreeable enough to bed him. That’s why I proposed this in the first place.”
I look at her questioningly.
She sighs. “Look. If we do this, we need to sell it to my people. Knowing you, you would kill any stud you don’t like. I can’t present you to my people as a member of the bloodline with a child and a partner, if said partner winds up dead after a few days. Even if Zane remains just a consort, he will still be the father of your offspring. Therefore, he will be a formal member of the bloodline.”
“I won’t share any power with him, if that’s what you are after,” I clarify.
“Of course not,” Janice answers. “So, do we have a deal?”
“One more thing. I want to know why you are emotional towards dueling.” I wondered why Janice had such a strong reaction back then.
The corner of Janice’s left eye twitches. “My fool of a husband died in one. I never bothered to take another consort after I lost him. Happy?”
“Ah, yes.” I never expected her to be that sort of person. Clearing my throat, I try to offer her a peace banner. “So, would you care to join me in one of my more frivolous hobbies? You seem to be hell bent on involving me in your familiar affairs, so I want to know who exactly I get involved with. You can also use the chance to explain how you intend on getting Zane’s family into this. He is clearly a family-guy, so I doubt that this will work without his relatives. His mother surely hates me after what I did yesterday.”
Janice huffs. “I will fill you in. In fact, I already talked to them before I visited you. What’s this hobby of yours?”
“Karaoke! I finally finished Illum’s improved interface, and I am going to use it to write a karaoke game!”