“Fear and respect are sometimes hard to differentiate.”
After Castella returned with her personal stuff, Janice took us directly to her own tower. Apparently, she called for the family meeting beforehand.
“There are so many people. I don't like this.” I pull down the corners of my mouth, showing that the situation isn't to my liking. I thought that meeting relatives should be something to look forward to, but in the end, the whole situation is just creepy.
“J-J- Just smile and b- b- be brave,” Castella stutters from behind me. If anything, her mental issues worsened since she left her garden. It’s clear that the place gave her courage and peace. Without it, she seems like a frightened little kid. But still...
Turning around, I study the petite woman who insisted on coming along. My 'mother' is pale and there is a pearl of sweat on her forehead. If it's true that she has left her garden for the first time in decades, then I am amazed that she isn't on the floor and sucking on her thumb.
She is holding her travelling bag like a protective shield in front of her. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t for her tormented expression. Castella should have left it at home. I wonder what’s inside it that’s so important.
Nonetheless, it's amazing that she is trying that hard to be at my side and console me, despite not being happy with the situation. Why is the fact that she is trying so hard causing a fuzzy feeling inside me? I don't like it. Hopefully, I won’t develop any real emotions for her. That would be just another item on my list of problems.
I return my attention to the crowd of at least two hundred people. There are so many of them! And according to Janice, all of them stand in a second to fourth-degree blood-relation to me. Uncles, cousins and so forth…
At least she didn’t invite the guys who are already six times removed from the core-family.
The Sovereign is still holding her lengthy speech, recounting everything that's happened so far. I quickly access Illum's controls to check the time. If I am not wrong, then Janice has been talking for over an hour. I guess it can’t be helped. There is a lot of explaining to do.
“... and so I want to introduce everyone to Nova Mirai, my granddaughter!” Janice gestures for me to join her on the podium.
I turn to Castella and look at Zane who is standing behind her. “I will be right back. There is no reason to follow me onto the stage.”
Nodding, I climb the few stairs and smile at the assembled crowd. We are inside a circular hall in Janice’s tower. It takes up an entire floor of the large building, so there is more than enough space for the crowd.
I clear my throat and smile. “It's a pleasure to meet all of you. Rest assured that I, as the ruler of Illum, feel honoured to be so well received among the bloodline.” I bow slightly to show respect, but not enough to demean myself. Then I wave at the assembled observers who are holding back at the walls. According to Janice, they are something like news reporters for the public.
Fuck me sideways. You can tell that a culture developed past any control when there are news reporters who can barge in on a private event!
Most of the assembled people look indifferent. Others nod respectfully at me and raise their glasses. They cheer in greeting. Only a few of my relatives are clearly not pleased, showing it with their sour expressions.
Leaning towards her, I whisper to Janice. “That went better than I expected. Shouldn't there be bad blood against the uppity newcomer who thinks that she can simply waltz in and change the balance of power?”
Janice keeps smiling, whispering from between her teeth. “I officially recognized you. Additionally, they are all trained in soul-magic. Which means that they are able to read auras and judge a person's power level. Your magical artefacts and your aura look like a blazing sun. Even the greatest idiot in this room has the ability to recognize that angering you will get them a powerful enemy.”
That's actually quite useful. It's a society in which everyone knows instantly whether the other party is above or below the pecking order. “So I won't have to deal with idiotic challenges to prove my worthiness.”
The Sovereign chuckles and guides me off the podium. “No. Though I am not sure about Zane. Some of the young upstarts might see a chance in raising their status by courting you. Their attention will switch to your consort once they hear that you are already taken care of.”
I purse my lips. “Wouldn't that be incest?”
“Depends on how strict you are on the definition. Every human is related to another in one way or the other. I would say that your cousin's great-grandchild is already far enough removed from your own genes to avoid genetic defects,” Janice explains coolly.
I stop myself before I say something stupid. The Sovereign has a point. I was a slave for eighty years. That's almost a century. If my uncles, aunts and their offspring have been busy, then I am looking at five to six generations. Maybe even more, depending on how early they got to work.
“If there are so many prospects, then why were you so insistent on me hooking up with Zane? Wouldn't it be better to get me into the sack with someone who is under your control?” Not that I care about that option, but once it popped into my head, the question has to be answered.
Janice shrugs. “Aside from the reasons which I already gave you, would you really go along with such a plan? I have no illusions about my ability to force you into something which you aren't already inclined to do yourself. You already had a relationship with Zane and I am not enough of a fool to think that you would stay a loner forever. I wanted you to finalize your relationship with him so that none of my foolish descendants gets stupid ideas.
“Zane is a decent choice, unrelated to Mirai's politics, and has enough magical ability. His combat abilities are sufficient to avoid being broken by you on accident. That can't be said about ninety percent of the possible candidates who are present in this room. And the rest... let's just say that I don't want you to be caught up in their politics.”
“Wherever you go, there are always the games of the powerful,” I muse.
“True. There is no other choice than to play the game. Otherwise, others will play it for you,” Janice answers.
I smile back, but don’t answer. After all, she won’t like my solution to the problem. Sometimes, one has to smash the board if she doesn’t want to play.
Janice waves in greeting as we rejoin Zane and Castella. A man and a woman are waiting with the two of them.
The man is at least a whole head larger than me and has a broad frame. I can't tell for sure because of his suit, but I bet that he is packed with muscles. The gray eyes and the black hair are a clear sign that we are related.
The lean woman next to him is a rather plain brunette. Maybe even a little too plain. There are no distinct features which would make her stand out. Her round face is neither ugly nor pretty. If she wasn't wearing such a nice blue dress, I wouldn't think twice of her. Her plainness is so perfect that I suspect an illusion.
Remembering my lessons on soul-magic, I try one of my new skills and focus energy into my pupils. Forming the necessary spell matrix takes a second, but I manage it without mistake. I should really train this basic skill until I can do it instinctively. It's just too useful to pass up on.
When I open my eyes, I can see their auras and the magic around them. Being able to recognize the ability level of others at a glance is priceless.
The man has a bright and powerful aura surrounding him. The colour is a deep violet. If I remember correctly, then that's very close to crossing over to the actual reincarnation stage. Either he is very old, or someone went through a lot of effort to groom this person into a powerful man.
Surprisingly, the woman who I actually wanted to check on is a letdown. Her bleak aura is yellow but has a greenish taint. A normal who is on the verge between the two stages? That still makes her unbelievably weak.
I quickly survey the room, which I should have done at the beginning. There are a few more violet auras, but no shades of blue which would indicate someone who has access to the memories of a previous life.
Returning my attention to the people in front of me, I notice that my mother isn't as weak as she seemed to me. Her aura, just like Zane's, is a dirty mix of violet and blue. Knowing about the reasons behind the look of Zane's aura, I turn my attention to Janice.
Guess who played a little uplifting with her daughter?
Did Janice do it before her daughter was abducted? Or afterwards? Knowing the reasons behind human experimentation could be quite important. I am certainly nobody who should judge such actions, but if Janice is morally capable of committing a dangerous experiment on her own flesh and blood, it would be good to be aware of it.
There could be other reasons behind Castella's aura, but I should still research the issue. Better to be safe than to be sorry.
Janice gestures at the man and the surprisingly mundane woman next to him. “Allow me to introduce you. Your Uncle, Samir, and his wife, Riona.”
Ah, that explains a lot about his violet aura and why Castella is glareing at him as if he is a bug. She mentioned that she and her brother aren't on good terms with each other.
Samir smiles and bows to me. “It's an honour to meet you. And a surprise that you turned out to be my sister's daughter. She already told me that she would leave her tower to join you on Illum. Hahaha. I must thank you. She was holed up in her garden and refused to take part in social life. I didn't want to believe my eyes when I met her here.”
What a surprisingly cheerful person. “Oh, you must have misunderstood something. My mother wants to take her garden with her.”
A slight smile steals itself onto Castella's lips. “J- J- just the part which belongs to me.”