“Some things you only get as a package!”
“I am a father!” I raise the little baby boy in my arms, still not believing it. It took two hours of pain and screams, which transformed the healer's chamber into a living nightmare. “It's almost worth it to be yelled and screamed at for over two hours.”
My eyes wander sheepishly to Nova, who is holding the girl. She is lying on the bed in our bedroom, tired from giving birth and totally exhausted. At least we managed to herd everyone out of the room so that Nova gets some rest. “I am glad that you are alright,” I admit grudgingly. Our relationship isn't like it should be for people who have children together, but I wouldn't be pleased if something bad had happened to her. There are too many horror stories of women who die while giving birth.
“At least you are trying to be nice.” Nova huffs and pets the sleeping baby in her arms. Lucifer is lying curled up next to her head, sleeping.
Realizing that Nova might want some praise for her efforts, I smile. It's really not asking too much if she wants a few nice words. “I've never met someone with such a rich vocabulary. When you let loose that last string of curses, I actually thought that you were trying to hex me for real.”
Suddenly, a guilty expression steals itself onto Nova's face. She draws her lips into a thin line and looks away.
“You didn't!?” I want to be sure. Normally, she doesn't show her true feelings to anyone, but it seems like her mask slipped just now. No wonder with her current state. “Why do you look so guilty?”
She steels herself again and smiles. “Nothing. It's not like my plan worked. I had to endure all of it. Casting a hex while being in so much pain goes past my skills. And it isn't like the hex would have killed you.” Nova tries to justify whatever she attempted to do.
I squint my eyes at her. “What would the hex have done?”
“Just switching bodies. Applied soul-magic is more complicated than it looks, though, there seem to be a lot of useful applications,” she admits. When she notices my horrified expression, she quickly adds, “It wouldn't have lasted for long. Our bodies aren't attuned to another soul. I am sure that I would've been able to switch us back, maybe...”
“Maybe!?” I squeak, not sure if I should be horrified or angry.
She tries to reason with me as if her attempt at doing something so horrifying would be a gentleman's mistake.
“Look, there is no need to be so appalled. What's wrong with sharing the pain? I only tried it after the first baby was already out. It's not like I would've let you do all the work. It would have been unfair if we had switched from the start.”
Shaking my head, I hand the baby boy to her. “Gods! We didn’t even speak about names for them and you try to pull such a stunt! Those two are on your plate. Don't try to deny it!” I am glad that her spell was too complicated to activate it in the heat of the moment.
“Oh, fine. It didn't work anyway, so don't fret over milk which wasn't spilled,” she says, trying to calm me. “Go and get Castella. I am sure that she will be glad to look after the babies while we get some sleep.
Shaking my head, I wander off to search for Nova's mother. “It's the thought that counts! This discussion isn't over.”
She pouts. “Are you sure that you don't want to do something else? Now that it wouldn't be a foursome anymore?”
I redden and flee the room. Why doesn’t she understand that I am rightfully angry about this?
I watch the elven king through the spyhole in the throne room's ceiling. Normally, I would never try to spy on my powerful patron, but the last conversation I walked in on added fire to my curiosity. I probably should have expected Fin to have hidden connections to people in powerful positions.
Hells, I always thought that might be the case. How else would he be able to rule over an entire race? I am not naive enough to believe that people with power have it because of the goodness of their hearts, or because they are pacifists. Fin is certainly neither an idealist, nor a pacifist.
Ever since his house came into a position of power, he solidified his reign through whichever means seemed the most effective at the moment. I just have to take a close look at his current concubine. Of course, it looks like he genuinely fell for her, and that might even be true. But in the end, he is the one who could order her whole family executed at any moment.
Connections and plays for power within the elven race are one thing. Maybe even connections to other races, as long as they belong to the Alliance. But Rufus doesn't just belong to another race, he is also the agent of another nation. The Consortium isn't exactly an enemy of the Alliance, but they aren't our friends either. They have their own agenda.
As our king, Fin should know better than to negotiate without his nation's advisers. He may be our nation's leader, but that doesn't exempt him from the law. Even the king himself can be sentenced if he collaborates with the enemy against his people.
What happens if the Alliance hears about his connections? They could evict us from the treaty which protected our people for centuries. At worst it could spark a civil war within the Alliance. Okay, maybe not a civil war. None of the other races would risk that while we are at war with the Empire.
Which doesn't mean that they won't do anything at all? And who says that they won't come after us once the war with the Empire is over? Holding my breath, I try not make a sound, focusing all my senses on listening to the strange conversation beneath me in the throne room.
Fin is standing in front of his throne, facing the holograms of several people. I can't see all of them, but there have to be at least five. A large communication crystal in the centre of the room is projecting their three-dimensional representations.
The man who I know as Rufus nods and speaks up. “It took me long enough to convince everyone to enter this discussion.”
A deep voice grumbles, “Though, I don't see what's there to discuss. The people who are taking part in this conversation have steered this world's fate for centuries. We know what to expect from each other, or the people who aren't present.”
Fin clears his throat. “Yes, that's right. I can't help but notice that a certain person who should be here is missing. Of course, if this is truly a meeting of all the influential reincarnated on this world?”
Rufus raises his hand. “That's because this meeting is about her and her new prodigy.”
A female voice laughs. “We already joined forces against her once. Isn't it enough that we forced her into exile? None of us wants to risk a direct confrontation with a necromancer of her power. Fighting her through proxies is a lot safer.”
“We did.” Rufus looks around, apparently making eye-contact with everyone. “But things have changed. She found new and powerful allies. There is a new player on the board and all of you are too busy with each other to see it.”
The deep voice again, “Oh, stop it. I know about this Joyce, or Nova, whatever her name is. She has a flying island, so what? She won't use it to conquer the world anytime soon. I won't work with Fin. Ever! The lines in the sand were drawn decades ago, and we are standing on different sides.”
“You are right.” The female voice hums. “Rufus, are you sure that this isn't just another one of your obsessions? I heard that – recently – your projects didn't go so well. I am actually glad that there is another proficient artificer on this world. Competition is good for business and having to suck up to you became a little boring.”
“That's not the issue!” Rufus's avatar hits something that isn't shown by the projection. “Haven't you read the documents which I've provided? Nova has her own agenda and she has no problem with causing trouble for all of us to achieve her goals.”
“Then get Fin to draw his troops out of my territory!” The deep voice grumbles. “I have my hands full with the Alliance.”
Fin laughs. “It's not like I have complete control over the Alliance's actions. Besides, I wouldn't do it anyway.”
The female voice yawns. “I admit that Nova caused me trouble, but all of this was brewing within my territory since a long time. I was the one who allowed the wound to fester, so I shouldn't complain because it popped, for whatever reason. The Sociocrathy also hasn't the resources to go after Nova. We are busy with the orks. As long as she stays on the Mirai island, I have no issues with her.”
“What about the flying Necropolis which is laying waste to the borderlands between the Sociocrathy and the Alliance?” Rufus asks.
Fin snorts. “Rufus, you are way too much of an accountant. The numbers of destroyed villages and casualties sound horrifying, but very little matériel was actually destroyed. The area held no military outposts or important infrastructure.”
“Then what about the direction? The pyramid is approaching the war zone.”
“When it becomes more than a nuisance, we will deal with it. You proposed an Alliance with the sole purpose of dealing with Janice and Nova. As things stand, that's out of the question. You just want to use us as shields against Janice. You are afraid of her soul-magic.”
Fin clears his throat. “It’s only reasonable to fear permanent death. My people and agents went through the Alliance's libraries. We cited a lot of texts and gathered knowledge in order to understand Nova's technology. We even acquired a sample of her fighter jets. It's possible that Nova's source of power isn't something of her own making.”
“So there were survivors who escaped the pyramid.”
The elven king nods and raises a book. “My researchers brought me this book. It's nothing more than a theoretic study, but it allows some interesting conclusions. If they are right, then cancelling Illum's force magic might be easier than one might believe. We could bring down the whole island in the blink of an eye. It's a comprehensive study from a certain 'Fiora', who gifted her research to the national library.”
The deep voice growls. “Maybe you should try to find this 'Fiora'.”
Fin shrugs. “The scholar who wrote the books will be hard to find by this point. She isn’t a registered citizen. But like I said, the theory is all here, we just need the people who can put it to practice. Then the issue with interfering flying islands won't be a problem much longer.”