“The more worshippers, the better.”
Castella Mirai is a small, but beautiful woman. She is at least one head shorter than Nova. Seeing her sitting next to her daughter makes it almost seem like she is the child. Nova must have gotten her larger frame from her father. Nonetheless, they are clearly related. Nova was lucky to inherit her mother’s generous, ahem, sizes in other areas.
After three hours of sitting next to her mother on the park-bench, Nova seems to become a little uncomfortable. Her mother didn't let go of Nova since they hugged for the first time. Even now, the smaller woman is holding Nova's hand, their fingers intertwined.
And the worst of all, that woman went on crying for over an hour. I know that I sound like an ass, but there is a limit to emotional outbursts. At least it seems like Castella's tear-ducts finally dried up. Now she is just sniffling from time to time while Nova gives her a recount of her life.
I have no doubts that Nova is editing and censoring large parts of the story. Like living a pretty decent life as the assistant of Orwen's weather mage, aside from being a slave. She didn't mention anything about rape and beatings to her mother, but I don’t need much imagination to fill out the blanks in Nova's story.
As a part of my military training, I infiltrated the Empire and lived among them for over a year. Seeing how Nova skips over certain parts of her story makes me sure that she didn't get lucky and had a 'good' master.
In fact, the higher up a slave's master stands on the Empire's social ladder, the worse he gets. The richer they are, the easier they can 'replace' their 'inventory'.
Castella's hair is black, just like Nova's. After seeing it against the sunlight, it seems to be more of a deep, dark blue. Her prominent cheekbones and slim frame are proof that she isn't eating well. I wonder if she was simply wasting away because of her mental problems, or if she was passively trying to kill herself.
“You really have to believe me that I am doing fine.” Nova squeezes her mother's hands. “Why don't you visit me on Illum? I could get you a room, so we can get to know each other. I would really love that.”
Castella casts a frightened glance at her lemon trees. “But I haven't left my garden in decades.”
Nova gestures at our surroundings. “Oh, but after seeing your skills with plants, I would really love it if you helped me out. Illum's greeneries aren't much to look at. Kiara, who is in charge of Illum's environment, is doing a fine job. Sadly, she is more the type who deals with animals instead of plants.”
Her mother seems to be torn between the offer and staying in her familiar environment.
“If you really don't want to leave your garden, I can uproot your tower and incorporate it into Illum,” Nova offers, absent-mindedly.
Oh, there she goes. I can list a number of reasons why that isn’t a good idea. For example, we have absolutely no idea of the Mirai’s political circumstances. Which reactions would such a show of power cause?
Castella gasps. “Uproot my tower?”
Janice raises her hand to stop the mad woman. “Ah, I am proud of having such a powerful granddaughter, but wouldn't that be... a little dangerous?”
“Illum still has a lot of safety capacity. There isn't much difference between holding the ring around the main-island and a straight structure like this tower. In the process of repairing the pond, I would've done some remodelling anyway.” Nova shrugs. “It's just a matter of getting the people at the tower's base out of the way.”
Nova's mother nods. “If it's really that easy for you, then I would love to visit. But you only have to take the tower's upper half. The lower half belongs to my brother.” She leans closer to Nova and whispers, “he is a jackass, so it would be just right if his house's roof flies off.”
Hahaha. That’s actually quite funny. Castella is living in her brother’s attic.
“We will find a way,” Nova answers with confidence in her voice.
“I still can't believe that this is happening.” Castella shakes her head, studying Nova with puffy eyes. “If only my husband was alive to see you. You have his earlobes. He would be glad that you are doing so well.”
Now that was a picture I didn’t need! Nova’s earlobes are off limits for at least a month. Hopefully, I will have forgotten it by then.
“Yes!” Nova gestures towards me. “Actually, I would like you to meet my consort. He is a goody-two-shoes, but that's why it's so much fun to play with him.”
For the first time, Castella takes notice of me. Of course, I try my best to smile. “It's nice to meet you, Castella. You have no idea how much Nova talked about seeing you.” I lie with a straight face. Destroying Nova's image by telling the truth wouldn't do any good. Besides, I am sure that having such a clingy mother might be a good thing for that psychopath. The more of Nova's attention is on Castella, the less she will play around with me.
The small woman starts with asking a few strict questions about me and my family. I answer truthfully, not hiding the fact that my household is a little messed up at the moment. Castella's demeanour towards me turns a little friendlier while she outright interrogates me.
After a felt eternity, Nova interrupts us. “Mom, I would love to talk more, but I really need some rest. Why don't we see each other this afternoon?”
Castella's attention is immediately back on Nova. “But it's only early afternoon. Are you ill? If you are still weakened from your time as-”
Nova smirks and raises her hand to stop Castella. “It's nothing like that. Just the natural consequence of having a male partner who demands nightly attention. If he stays that well-behaved and vigilant, it won't take long for you to become a grandmother. In fact, I might already be...”
“Oh. I had no idea that your relationship is already that serious.” Castella's gaze wanders to Nova's belly and then to my reddening face. “I suppose that you are really doing fine.”
I knew that it would happen, but hearing it directly from that vixen's mouth is an entirely different thing than the simple possibility that Nova might already be pregnant. “Nova is a treasure. I am sure that my life would be boring and bleak without her.” Which wouldn't be necessarily a bad thing?
Castella's grip on Nova's hand tightens. “Then I have to stay with you!”
Nova realizes that her attempt to disengage from the meeting backfired. She tries to back-pedal. “I am sure that-”
The little woman next to her is having none of it. “If it's really true that you are pregnant, then you need someone who stays at your side. Not only are you just beginning to learn about your heritage, once your condition proceeds, you will have moments of weakness.” Her expression turns pleading. “I wasn't there for you when you were a child. Let me at least help you during this time of hardship. You will need someone you can trust.”
“I-” Nova quickly glances at the Sovereign.
I quickly look at Janice but miss whatever went on between the two of them.
“I would be honoured to have your assistance, but I won't be able to relocate your tower right away,” Nova answers, trying to avert the inevitable.
The light in Castella eyes makes it clear that this isn't a matter of discussion. She gets to her feet, letting go of Nova for the first time. “It- It doesn't matter.” She nods and gestures for Nova to stay seated. “Just give me time to pack a few things! Don’t go anywhere. I'll be right back!”
With that, she storms off, leaving us alone.
Janice sighs in relief. “Seriously, that went better than I expected. Good work, Nova.”
Nova bites her lower lip, looking after her mother. “Was she that clingy before the 'incident'?”
The Sovereign follows Nova's gaze. “Not that I know, though she never dared to leave my side until she was seven. But you are her first and only child, so I can't tell for certain.”
I chuckle. “She will surely even check up on you when you are in your bed.”
Nova smiles and swings her left leg demonstratively over the other, causing my traitorous eyes to follow the movement. She chuckles evilly. “Only until she finds you lying beneath me.”
“Or on top,” I mutter defyingly.
“Yeah.” Nova tilts her head and looks at the ceiling, mumbling, “maybe I should try the chains. That will shut him up.”
Janice covers her mouth with one hand and clears her throat. “Don’t forget that we still have to meet the rest of the family. Tomorrow, I will introduce Nova to the public as a member of the bloodline.”