“Since ancient times, men are the ones who have to risk their...”
“It will take forever to do that for the whole city. Our wards aren’t designed for quick temperature changes.”
I return to my office. It took an hour to raise the temperature in my quarters to over sixty degrees, hoping to drive the metamorph out of hiding. Then I had to cool everything down. Sadly, my quarters turned out to be clean. “I don't understand. Why did it attack Brian? It gave up on any chance at a surprise attack on me. Now we know that it is here.”
Castella and Zane follow me into the room. My consort sits down at the sofa and huffs. “Maybe it didn’t expect Castella to identify its signature. I have no idea. It’s possible that it gave in to some sort of instinct and used the opportunity. Or it isn't smart enough to realize that it gave up on an advantage.”
My mother raises a warning finger. “Or it simply wants to spread chaos. The population could panic if it becomes known that someone is assassinating people in high positions. We were lucky that Fae went directly to us. If Brian doesn't give away his changed circumstances, nobody will ever know that he was almost killed.”
“He was killed!” Zane corrects her. “And what about the pale skin. Someone is bound to ask questions.”
“His medical circumstances are changed,” Castella admits. “But there are spells to take care of appearances. Our undead only look like undead because it's a cultural thing. In our society, it isn't a shame to be a revived person. It only means that someone decided to stay around to take care of his descendants and the state. It's an honour.”
“You forgot about the obvious reason for killing Brian,” a voice chimes and Willow pokes her head out of the ventilation shaft.
I huff. “And how would you happen to know about what happened, Willow?”
The little fairy cups both hands at her ears. “The wise goddess forgot to install sound cancellation on the ventilation grid. So if there is an elf running along the corridor, screaming with a high pitched voice, the hive is bound to notice.”
Great. Another thing to worry about. I don’t want over two hundred fairies to listen in on everything I do. They will set up some sort of reality TV-show with me as the main character! “It appears that you listened in on the important bits and you are cocky enough to assume that you know the attacker's reasoning. Do you have an idea how to find the metamorph?”
Willow flies into the room, buzzing around like an oversized fly. “They already tried to assassinate you, Nova. You also demonstrated several times, in public, that your personal defences are very impressive. Simply getting past your guards is by no means a guarantee for success. So, your enemies do the only thing that's left. They pick off the people close to you. Like family, staff... They want you to split your resources, giving them an opportunity to get you.”
She hums and lands on top of a shelf. “Apart from that, I don't know much about metamorphs. We fairies don't tend to have problems with them. Whoa! It's dusty up here. You should use Lucifer as a dust-catcher to get this cleaned up.”
I close my eyes and rub the bridge of my nose. “I have other things to do than to hunt an intruder who can take any shape.” I walk over to my office table and pet Lucifer who is sleeping on the documents. He has grown into a full sized cat. “The restructuring project takes a lot of my attention. Once I lift Castella’s tower I have to be extra careful.”
“Doesn't that mean that my family is also in danger?” Zane concludes. He looks at me. “We have to find the creature and stop it!”
Rolling my eyes, I stalk over to where Zane is sitting, then I take his hand and place it on my belly. It's almost three weeks since I stopped using preventive measures. Almost a month. It's impossible to see from a distance, but if you touch it, it's clear that my belly is a little taut and bigger than it should be. “Do you feel that? I am not going to hunt and wrestle with a strange creature. That's the man's duty. Your ring gives you access to everything you should need for the job.”
Zane's jaw drops.
Castella's snickering returns him to his senses. He shoots upright, realizing how whiny his complaints sounded. “That's right! I am your consort and one of Illum's military commanders. This is obviously my job.”
Striding over to the door, he grabs the handle and turns back to us. “Stay here until the creature is dealt with. Don't go anywhere that isn't secured until I come back.” He leaves the room and locks the door behind him.
“That worked surprisingly well on him. Must have flipped some switch,” I mumble. “Oh, I really hope that it doesn’t backfire on me.” It seems like me trusting him with an important task gave him confidence.
Castella smiles. “It's okay. I was wondering about the relationship between the two of you. Don't be angry, but he seems to be awkward around you. Maybe it's that he feels like he doesn't deserve his position at your side.”
To be honest, the only position I am really interested in is him being in my bed. I suck in my lips and gnaw on them. “Maybe. Why don't we eat something while the others take care of this morphy-thing? It can't be that impossible to find if it reacts to heat.”
“That's a good idea. Why don't you lie down on the sofa while I make something? I already got to take a good look at the kitchen.” She forces me down onto the sofa and sashays away with a happy spring in her step.
I contemplate resisting, but then I figure that I can use the downtime to take care of a few things. Stretching my legs, I lie down and concentrate on my virtual interface. It takes only a mental command to activate the connection between my tattoo and my agents.
Scrolling through the list, I choose a student from the Sociocrathy who is getting his education abroad in the Consortium. In the past, I already took him over a few times to prepare some things. Seems like I proved good foresight in doing so.
He is the son of one of the wealthy slave merchants who had dealings with the Empire through the Sociocrathy’s black market. After establishing the connection, I close my eyes...
And open them again. I roll my shoulders and tilt my head from one side to the other. Michael's hand is shaking a little. It looks like the host is trying to regain control of his body, so check on the tattoo on the inside of his arm.
It isn't well drawn. Sloppy work, probably because the instructions weren't followed correctly. That's what I get for outsourcing work. Sigh. It should hold for long enough.
“Michael, what are you doing at your desk? I am all hot and bothered. You promised to show me how it's done, instead, you get straight back to work because of a stupid message.”
Turning, I find a naked chic on Michael’s bed. Seems like he was busy while I didn’t remote control him.
I purse my lips and survey the room. Somehow I have to get her out of the room to access the hidden stash.
The needy girl on the bed is slim and isn't as well endowed as I am. She is more of the athletic variety.
Well, not that my current body is endowed at all. I look down at myself and clear my throat. Definitively a man. Who would deny a needy woman a little fun?
She huffs and lies down onto her back, fingering herself. “I'll make sure to tell everyone in class that you are just a voyeur.”
“Now, that shouldn't be allowed. Women in need have to be rescued.” I get up and walk over to her, getting onto the bed and slipping between her legs. Point one for remote control slave magic. Too bad that I am about to end this sort of slavery.
After having done my duty, I am on my way through the Consortium's capital city, Jade. Seeing the difference in technology is mind blowing. Most of the rest of the world is locked in some pseudo-magical-medieval age, while the Consortium is already at some sort of steam-punk level.
Their magic isn’t necessarily overly superior to the rest of the world, but they definitely are ahead in the scientific department. After all, the really big achievements are made by combining magical and scientific knowledge. Science gets you only so far, but magic allows to circumvent some of the annoying rules which get pure scientific progress stuck.
How do the people of this world get used to the Consortium? Don’t they want it for their home country after studying here? There must be some sort of cultural exchange. I really have to take a close look at the White City to compare the two cultures.
At least there are plenty of resources available at the university. Who in the world allows a student access to a magical laboratory with all the elements to build an energy disruptor? Sloppy. My campaign would have been very different had I started it in the Consortium.
I spin the present box between my hands and stop myself just in time from crossing the street. A large vehicle speeds past me, hooting loudly. The driver didn't show any remorse at almost turning this body into road-kill.
I hiss out between closed teeth. “That's what I get for skipping the industrial age. I'll certainly not allow such a hazard on Illum. The civilians can take the public transportation system.” Of course, that means that I first have to install a public transportation system.
After properly checking the street to my left and to my right, I cross the street. Looking up, I check the sign of the large building.
Nodding, I enter through the front door and walk up to the reception. Smiling, I wait until the female receptionist takes notice of me. She reaches up and rearranges the glasses on her nose with a delicate finger. “How can I help you, boy.”
I clear my throat and try to sound insecure. “Yes, my name is Michael Vantage. My father is a friend of Mina Wensen, the niece of Rufus Peregrin? Am I at the right place?”
The secretary looks at me, annoyed, and sighs. “You look like a student. Am I right? No matter how important your dad is, the C.O. is in a meeting. She doesn't have time to deal with you. We aren't in the habit of taking bribes for work experience.”
I shake my head. “Oh, no. You misunderstood. I am just a messenger. You see, my father borrowed this from Mina and just wants me to give it back. I have more than enough to do at the university. If you tell me when I can give it to her, I can come back. Or I can leave it here, so she can take it once the meeting is over.”
The woman looks at the ceiling and then at a document beneath the counter, mumbling, “She is in 'Studio 3', so that will probably take a while. You can leave it at the security over there, or return tomorrow.” She points at a door to the side.
I smile and nod. “So that means that she is inside this building.”
The secretary presses her lips together. “Well, yes. But-”
I open the lid of my present box.
And I open my eyes, looking at the ceiling of my office. The connection simply broke. If everything worked, then the detonation must have taken out the entire building and at least damaged the neighbouring ones. Rufus and I can call it a tie now.
I stretch and check on the time. Just a little over half an hour. That's a new record for having a quickie and killing one of Rufus's flunkies.
At that moment, Castella enters the room with a tray in her hands. The plate is filled with food, causing me to smile. I could get used to this.