“To help, or not to help. That’s the question.”
“I am surprised. It's not what I expected,” I admit, looking back and forth between the Sovereign's dark fleet and the white city which stretches out beneath us. After a week, we finally arrived at the Mirai capital. Of course, the Sovereign's fleet arrived here long before us.
Janice, Zane and I are standing on my balcony, enjoying the view.
And what a view it is. The Mirai used white quartz to build their city. Large, luxurious buildings take up most of the city. Occasionally, huge towers decorate the skyline, but they are placed far away from each other. The white stone even paves the streets and the harbour. It looks like a city of light, certainly not a place which is filled with necromancers.
Compared to that, the Sovereign's fleet looks outright evil. The black ships with their spiky protrusions are like a promise of pain and death for anyone who dares to cross their path.
Janice smiles from ear to ear and gestures at the scene beneath us. “Allow me to introduce you. The White City! Oh, I can't wait to see my children's faces when I tell them the news.”
“Wait. You haven't told them about me?” I ask.
Janice snorts, showing absolutely no dignity. “Pfff! Of course not! What would I have done if you had died? My daughter would have thrown herself out of the next window.”
“Maybe it's not a good idea to introduce Nova to someone who is that unstable,” Zane mumbles.
Nodding, I admit that Zane has a point. Though, the Sovereign doesn't seem to see it that way.
Admittedly, from Janice's point of view, we were surrounded by enemies. If my mother is as unstable as Janice says, then telling her in a message that I am alive could have pushed the woman over the edge. She most likely would have done something stupid, like rushing to meet me.
I scratch my belly and look down at the city, feeling depravation. “So, how are we going to do this? According to our agreement, I have to be on my best behaviour from now on.” Actually, I am not certain on how to feel about the situation. During the last weeks, I had more than enough time to think about everything.
Going purely by experience, I know that being a part of a family is always nice. Going from reincarnation to reincarnation, I learned that having deep bonds with others is the only thing which allows me to stay sane... mostly sane... Let's call it slightly unstable. The connection to others roots me in my existence like nothing else.
Compared to that, living the life of a lone scientist always ends up in attempting risky experiments to learn more about the universe. Multiverse! That's right. Damn! It's hard to unlearn old stuff.
I suddenly remember that one time, when I blew up the planet... maybe I should have taken that as my worst experience when we competed for the worst memory? Though, they don't really have to know how easy it is to cause a mass-extinction-event, given the right equipment.
Yeah, I better keep my mouth shut about that...
And it was over in a flash. Nobody felt a thing, so I would say that it doesn't count. There was no suffering, just 'pop' and it was over. There are worse ways to die. I am talking from experience.
Forcing myself, I return my thoughts to the current state of affairs. It would be nice to have deep bonds to others and a place to call home. The problem is... can I change myself that much? Janice is a reasonably acceptable person, but she doesn't feel like a real grandmother. More like a manipulative tutor. I can't get over the fact that we've only known each other for just a few weeks. I grew up without. How can I walk among them and pretend to be a part of their family?
In this incarnation, I grew up without family. How can I walk among the Mirai and pretend to be a part of them?
It seems far easier to spend this life in pursuit of revenge. I already created Illum as my new home and I can drag Zane along. His people are interesting enough to play with until I get bored and head on to the next life.
Janice claps her hands together, stopping my wandering thoughts. “Yes! About that! First, you will have a private meeting with your mother. If that goes well, we will officially introduce you to the rest of the lot as a member of the bloodline. The second appointment will be official, so try to behave like someone who knows what she is doing.”
I sigh. “Let's get it over with. I am really not sure if playing nice with my biological mother will help. Just don't blame me if she freaks out, or falls into an even deeper depression.”
Janice nods. “I won't blame you. It's a gamble. Castella hasn't left her mansion since we managed to rescue her. She is always in that stupid garden of hers and trying to deny reality. It's sickening me. Everything is fine, as long as she comes out of her shell. After decades of recuperation, I am fairly sure that her condition will never change without outside intervention.”
“I understand,” I answer.
Janice is at the point where worsening a loved one's condition in hope of an improvement is acceptable. It's like trying a new medicine on a fully disabled person. As Castella's mother, Janice isn't able to stand aside. To be fair, she did just that for over seventy years. If Castella was be able to get over her emotional loss, she would have done so by now.
Maybe she really just needs an event that breaks her shell. Like a lost daughter returning from the dead.
“Then let's go.” Janice takes my hand and casts a levitation spell.
“Right now?” I ask, not feeling prepared. If I do this, then I want to do it right. I only had a few hours to train my expressions in the mirror. I thought that showing the right reactions would be very important. At first, I wasn't sure if I should really try the emo-route, but anything else would probably weird Castella out and leave her blaming herself.
“The longer we wait, the harder it gets,” Janice answers and floats forward, pulling me with her.
“Wait for me!” Zane calls out and casts a levitation spell of his own.
We slowly float down towards the city, homing in on one of the large towers. It reminds me of Orwen. The really influential mages tend to live in towers. What's this thing with towers? I hate towers. So many stairs.
The thought makes me wary of Janice's intentions. Wouldn't this be the perfect chance for an attack? For the first time, I am going to be on Janice's turf. But when I try to come up with reasons for an attack, I come up with blanks. There would be far easier ways to manoeuvre me into a situation which is advantageous for the Sovereign. Most importantly, far less risky for her people. She saw what Illum can do.
Feeling better, but not entirely safe, I access Illum's controls to make sure that the place of my power is never out of reach.
“I thought that your daughter lives in a mansion. That's a huge tower with at least a hundred floors,” Zane comments.
Janice clears her throat. “Tower, Mansion. Both are large buildings. That's all. Do you really want to haggle over semantics?”
We land on a balcony on one of the upper floors. From up close, the quartz is lined with a few dark veins, but they are so fine that they aren't visible from far away.
I also study the tower in more detail. The architect managed to create a perfectly smooth facade. In addition, the entire floor seems to be a large greenhouse. It's clearly a recreational area.
Without further ado, Janice steps inside and nods in greeting at two guards. The men recognize her and move their hands away from the hilts of their weapons. Both have the white skin of the undead, but otherwise, they look completely human. The one on the left has a greatsword, while the one on the right carries an oversized hammer.
We are led deeper into the greenhouse, showing me how large the base of the tower truly is. This thing's base must be at least a hundred metres in diameter. At a height of twenty metres, this floor's ceiling is also not too shabby. The entire place hums with magic, explaining how it's possible to find such an architecture in a medieval world.
The plants in here are from all over the world. There are trees, flowers, and herbs. I touch one of the old trees right next to the path, wondering why anyone would go through the trouble of creating this. Illum's park-area isn't even half as pretty. Walking along a softly curved path, we reach a small lemon grove.
A woman is tending to the offshoots with a tranquil expression, trimming them with gardening scissors. She looks up upon noticing us. “You are back.” Her expression softens a little when she recognizes Janice.
Janice raises her hand while approaching her daughter. “Castella, I have a surprise for you! Foremost, this will require a little bit of explaining, so don't overreact.” Reaching out, the Sovereign squeezes her daughter's shoulder and gestures towards me. “We've finally brought her back! Nova is home.”
Castella gaze wanders from her mother to me and back, uncomprehending. Then she starts shaking, dropping the scissors to the ground. Her chin trembles in suppressed rage. “I am an emotional wreck, but that's really a bad joke, mother!” she squeaks, her voice breaking. “I am not so far gone that I don't realize that this woman can't be Nova!” She slaps Janice's hand away.
That could have gone better.
With Castella's fury directed towards Janice, I decide to try my luck. After all, I swore to do my best, so I step forward, smoothing my face into the expression I decided on beforehand. “She isn't lying. I am your daughter, at least biologically,” I explain with a benevolent voice, trying to project calmness.
Yes, I am a very good actor, but only if I really want to. Though, most of the time I don't bother. It's far easier to bash in someone's head to get what I want.
“I lived in the Empire until I managed to escape. This is a strange situation and it's understandable for you to feel overwhelmed, but we can explain everything.” I smile. “I always asked myself who my real parents are. Never would I have thought that I would be able to meet you.”
Castella doesn't stop shaking, so I fear that she might try to run away. Somehow she has to calm down. Stepping forward, I pull my mother into a tight embrace, giving her no chance of escaping the situation.
After a few moments, I decide on going to stage two of my plan. Doing my best I guide a little energy to my tear-ducts, irritating them. Crying rivers of tears, I sob and press my cheek against Castella's. Finally, she raises her hands and embraces me, crying and sniffling like a baby.
Noticing Zane and Janice watching us, I wink at them.
Zane turns his face away and leans over to Janice, whispering, “She almost had me fooled. Now I am officially afraid of that woman.”
Janice's expression is tormented. “Just imagine a little child with that level of skill. There wouldn't be anyone who could refuse the little hellion. Now I feel bad for being glad that she didn't grow up in my household.”
Idiots! I place a finger on my lips. Castella is crying out her soul, but if they are any louder she is bound to notice something. Oh, geez. I'll need a new outfit when she is done crying.
And why does it feel so wrong to help this person? Maybe because my reasons aren't pure?