“Beg if you must, but make sure to deal with those who brought you into the position.”
I slowly follow Janice towards Nova's palace. My husband, Oswin, and Zane are at my side, but I insisted that my daughter has to stay at our quarters. The child is too young to be included in the impending discussion with Nova. To tell the truth, I am not exactly thrilled about it. It's shocking that all my teachings didn't prevent Zane from entangling himself in such a web of responsibilities.
In his attempt to do the right thing and protect his family, he ended up bargaining with powers who are far above our ability to cope with.
Forcing my eyes away from Janice's back, I focus my attention on our surroundings. The street in front of Nova's little palace is busy, but not cramped. The palace itself, which was made out of white marble, is small but beautiful. It outshines the growing buildings around it. As everywhere in Illum, the palace isn't what it seems to be. It's far bigger on the inside, almost wasteful.
People are milling about, following their various tasks. Illum is a place with many opportunities. Up until now, the rate of unemployment stayed at almost zero. One might think that a place like Illum doesn't have much to offer, but that's wrong. Because of all of Nova's projects to develop Illum, there is even a distinct lack of labour force.
Wrinkling my nose, I look away from a man who kneeled down in front of the palace to murmur a prayer. His eyes are closed and he seems to be totally serious about his beliefs. Idiot.
Nova and the Sovereign are powerful, but they are certainly no gods. At least Nova isn't doing anything to actively encourage this new cult. Though, she isn't doing anything against it either.
I have no idea how it started, but when we arrived at Illum, the original settlers of the island already had developed something like a cult. And their religion is spreading massively, especially since Nova grounded a group of people in front of her palace for over an hour and killed an offender who spoke against her rule.
Admittedly, the woman has mind boggling abilities and knowledge, but that doesn't make her a god. Does it? What's required to be counted as a god?
If she isn't careful, Illum might turn into a second Sociocrathy.
Shaking my head, I return my attention to the woman in front of us. Yesterday, the Sovereign simply barged into our quarters and gave us a choice. Taking her social status into account, nobody dared to refuse. Though, Zane is acting much too familiar with her. A sudden suspicion steals itself into my mind. Don't tell me that he is doing her too!
“I still don't like the idea,” Zane grumbles.
Oswin's answer is equally unhappy. “You don't have to tell me. It feels like I am being taken by my mum to the school's director because I did something wrong.” He glares at Janice's back. There is no doubt that he isn't happy about the Sovereign's suggestion for Zane to become Nova's official consort.
But what other choices do we have? It would be Zane's - and our family's - social end if it comes out that he had an affair with Illum's ruler.
“Shut up. Both of you,” I hiss and shoot an angry look at Zane. “Maybe you should have thought about your actions before you got yourself involved with the Mirai.” I quickly shut up when the Sovereign turns around and smiles at us.
“Believe me. This is the best way to settle things. Nova is her own person, but she is still my granddaughter. I don't want her reputation to be damaged because of an illegitimate consort. Luckily, Zane is already heavily involved with Illum's politics, so it won't be hard to turn him into an official consort. Some people may question his suitability, but I am sure that the both of them can shut up any critics.”
“It wouldn't be the first partnership which is arranged out of convenience. And there is no doubt that Nova is a good catch for any man with balls between his legs,” Oswin admits and grins at his son.
At least Zane has the decency to blush.
Janice laughs and resumes her march. “Don't worry. I don’t know why exactly, but I have a feeling that the two of them are meant for each other. It’s their destiny. Besides, if they manage to make it work, their opposing personalities will benefit from each other.”
I raise an eyebrow. It’s far more likely that they will end up trying to kill each other.
For some reason, I feel like I am being watched. Looking around, I notice a gorgeous blonde in the crowd. She is smiling while looking directly at Janice. Just for a moment, my eyes wander from the stranger to the Sovereign and back. When my attention returns to the stranger, the woman is gone. She must’ve disappeared in the crowd.
I consider informing the others. Should I follow her? The mere thought makes my whole body shudder, giving me a really bad feeling about such a decision. I shake my head. What good would it do? The Sovereign is a celebrity. There is nothing strange in watching her when she wanders the streets.
We follow the Sovereign into the palace while I try to forget about the stranger. Something tells me that confronting that woman would open a whole new can of worms.
I am trying to hide it, but I have a prophetic ability. Unlike a real prophet, I just get a rough feeling if a certain action would be bad or beneficial to me. Getting just a rough feeling is unreliable at best, but I never regretted following my feelings when it was about a major decision.
Like the urge to dash down the street and follow the stranger. Something tells me that it wouldn't have ended well.
My worries are forgotten when we arrive in Nova’s office. Illum’s ruler beams a smile at us and gets to her feet. “Welcome! It’s good to meet you under less formal circumstances.” She gestures at the corner to our right. There are two large sofas and a small table between them. Informal indeed.
I nod and fake a smile, remembering our encounter in the entrance hall. It will be very hard to accept this meddling woman. “It’s a pleasure,” I lie and walk to the sofa. Doing so, I prepare a mantra in my mind. Nova won't play with my feelings that easily a second time. Catching me off-guard once is one thing. It's different if I know what to expect from her and Zane.
The Sovereign gestures for me and Oswin to sit down. Meanwhile, Nova approaches us and links arms with Zane, who is trying to smile despite the awkward moment.
Nova grins from ear to ear. “It’s so good to finally get this over with. I had my eyes on Zane since he visited my island for the first time. Shooing away his fiancée in a way which wouldn’t offend him too much was a real piece of work.”
Zane looks at me and his expression says more than a thousand words. ‘Please don’t let her goad you into doing something stupid.’
I nod sagely. “Zane told us a lot about the relationship between the two of you. I must admit that I am curious. What do you see in my son?”
Nova looks like she is a little disappointed that I didn’t react to her provocation, but she recovers quickly. If it wasn't for that short drop of her mask, I wouldn't be aware that she is playing. The woman is a good actress.
She chuckles. “Oh, I just like his innocence. Corrupting his ideals is such a sweet pleasure. I wonder how long it will take me to re-train him. You did a decent job in forging this sickening sense of justice in him.”
“Nova... Isn’t the real issue whether you are really pregnant or not?” Zane asks. His face is an expressionless mask.
Nova rolls her eyes. “You lot are so boring. It’s no fun to tease you when you show no reactions.” She pulls Zane to the sofa and sits down. “To tell you the truth, I don't know.” She touches her cheek. “I didn't cast protection spells since you went wild last night. I just played with the thought, but when I saw that you care so much I couldn't help myself. Having such a leverage on you would be really interesting.”
I am actually not sure if she is just a really meddlesome person, or a complete psycho.
I lean forward and glare at Nova. “I think that the real issue is something completely different. I don’t trust you and Zane clearly doesn’t love you. As a noble, I am well aware that a partnership between two people of high status often doesn’t include love. This is a harsh world and those who love too much often die cruel deaths. But I also firmly believe that there has to be some kind of balance between the partners. The question is what you want from my son! You don’t get anything from taking him as a consort. I don’t trust you. What if you suddenly decide to throw him away?”
Nova sighs. “Yes, yes. I understand. To tell you the truth, I am the evil overlord who seeks misery for everyone. By saving your family’s lives, I actually doomed all of you to a hopeless existence. Because... guess what? Life sucks! That's my evil master-plan!”
I look at Oswin. “She doesn’t take us seriously!”
He huffs. “Why should she? She is the one who is holding all the cards.”
Zane clears his throat. “Guys, maybe this meeting was a mistake. I think that you need to leave. Nova and I have to work this out between the two of us. Without interference!”
Nova leans against him. “Oh, hun! You are so strong and manly when you get all hot and bothered. Are you going to take me like last time, or do I get to be on top?”
Zane's face distorts in disgust. “Please be serious. Both of us know that this isn't your actual personality.”