“Only relax once the last move has been made.”
***The White City***
“Oh, they are so cute and huggable! Especially with your cat right next to them! It's almost worth to have you as an extended family member.” Nadine bends over the cradle, watching the babies with sparkling eyes. Despite her age, the girl totally fell for the siblings' combined charm. “I want my own.”
Then she quickly adds, “Once I am older.”
“Careful,” I warn her. “You are still taking lessons from me. While I admit that your skill and knowledge improved a lot, it's smart not to offend your tutor. And I wouldn't put too much value in having children. The process and the after-effects aren't pleasant.”
“Why?” She asks and looks up. “The worst is over once they are out, isn't it.”
I wince and touch my chest. “Yes, yes. Sureee... There is the screaming, the pooping... And worst of all, the tits!”
“Tits?” Her eyes wander to my womanly assets.
I glare at her. “They leak.”
Her eyes widen and she covers her mouth, giggling.
Looking around, I search for something to hit her with. “What did I tell you about respecting your elders? Where is my reed?”
She straightens abruptly and bows to me, remembering the early time of my tutoring. “Thank you! The rod isn't necessary! Never again! You don't need a new one!”
Ah, yeah. I broke the last one when I punished her for trying to combine two spells in a way which bordered on an attempt to commit suicide. “Just don't try it again. The next rod won't be made out of wood. There are sturdier materials! I really don't care that much if you off yourself at this point. Your mistakes are your own responsibility, but don't take half the palace with you.”
Nadine shudders. “I'll never again try to weaken the cohesive bonds of a material without having proper safety precautions in place. I have learned my lesson.”
I nod. “Good. Then you can take care of the babies for the evening. I'll visit Janice. There is something we have to talk about.”
The girl nods. “Of course, Master!”
Rolling my eyes, I leave the living room and step onto the balcony. Allowing Nadine to call me Master was a mistake. Initially, she was reluctant to allow me to teach her. Then, her resistance slowly turned to admiration... though she is still taking every opportunity to insult me. Before I knew it, I wasn't just her mentor, but her benefactor and magical instructor in every sense of the word.
She is just lucky that her talent made me hesitate to discard her. Keeping her around and indebted to me might serve me in the long run. After all, I am a future-oriented person. Unlike most other people, I like to play the long game. My plans and desires reach far into the future.
I step onto the balcony and jump, floating freely above the White City. A thought is enough to send me off towards Janice's tower. She must be already waiting since I made an appointment earlier this morning.
The city's streets pass beneath me. They are very orderly, clearly planned and regulated. Most cities are a disorganized web of roads, as they grow and change over time. Such unregulated growth gives them an organic feeling. That's not the case in the White City. The streets are neatly arranged in a chequer.
Passing over the buildings, which are beautifully made out of white stone, and the people who are populating the city like ants, I reach Janice's tower. Instead of bothering with the Sovereign's reception, I head directly for the balcony of her office.
There are several battle mages who are guarding the tower's airspace. Some of them, who are also capable of levitation, close in when they notice me. One of the guards approaches close enough to recognize me. He casts a detection charm to make sure that he isn't mistaken. The white light of the spell envelops me and I allow his magic to do its work. A second later, he waves the others off and they return to their posts.
I continue on my way while the guard uses a communication crystal to inform Janice of my immediate arrival.
When I land on the balcony the door is already open, so I allow myself inside.
The Sovereign's office is huge. It's as if she is hoarding all the documents which are necessary to govern the Mirai in this single room. The high walls are stacked up to the ceiling with shelves, which are loaded with books. Half of the room to my right is taken up by bookshelves. Janice is sitting to my left, almost hidden behind a large desk, which is shaped like a 'U'. Not wasting the area, Janice has set up three different working stations.
She looks up and smiles when she notices me. “It seems like you found me without a problem. The directions were adequate?”
“Indeed. Your office is very luxurious if you allow me to praise you for it. Are those table and chairs made out of dragonbone?” I point at the white furniture, wondering where she got so much of the expensive material. I stole everything I have from my accursed master, may his soul safely rest in eternal damnation.
Ever since that time, I never got a hold of more. The material is enviously hoarded by strong mages and magical families. If something hits the market, it's immediately sold to the highest bidder. Most of the time, the items go directly to the inheritors. I could buy what I want from the black market. But to be honest, the benefit isn't worth the cost and I don't need more than I already have.
Nonetheless, that table must be priceless.
Janice smiles and runs a hand over the smooth material. “Indeed, and I didn't pay a single coin of copper for it.”
There is no point in asking what she meant by that. The Mirai have a long history of raiding the main continent and intercepting their enemies' shipping routes. That's what caused them to be labelled as pirates by every known race. Though, I learned that this isn't historically correct. The Mirai simply never stopped fighting a war which began almost a century ago.
Their enemies could have tried to negotiate for peace, but it seems like they found it easier to label the Mirai as pirates and ignore them. As far as that is possible. I would say that the captain of a trading ship which is taken by zombie pirates would argue otherwise.
Even so, with all their people in exile, the Mirai had to accept their demonization by the mainlanders.
I step closer and sit down on the guest-chair, finding it extremely uncomfortable. There are no cushions, and it seems like the item was shaped for someone who is far larger than me.
Noticing my attempt at finding a comfortable position, Janice grins. “You are supposed to shape it.”
Getting the idea, I channel my mana into the piece of furniture. I already have experience with shaping dragonbone, though I never tried to do it on the fly. Slowly, the chair changes shape, conforming itself to my figure and forming a footrest which allows me to relax. I sigh, seeing Janice's point in showing off her wealth in this ridiculous manner. “I could get used to this. Maybe I can do something similar in my office, using force fields.”
The Sovereign snorts. “I noticed that you aren't a big fan of comfort in your office. Having the right chair makes work so much easier to endure.” Leaning back, she regards me with a raised eyebrow. “So, what earns me this visit? You lowered yourself to visit my office for the first time. And you have already been on this island for several months.”
“Now that you mention it, I also find it strange,” I admit. “There was so much to do, and when I visited the city, my time was always taken up by some ball, or meeting.”
Janice looks at me apologetically. “We had to show you off. The public and the family need to know that the bloodline is uninterrupted.”
To be honest, my one and only visit to the city was short and embarrassing. I honestly underestimated how the necromancers are worshipped by the Mirai civilians, especially those civilians who were brought back.
After half an hour of walking through the streets, I noticed that everyone was looking strangely at me. When I went into shops, the people held open the doors. When I tried to buy toys and other necessities for the babies, the resurrected shopkeeper gifted me the toys and blankets for free! And then the look in his eyes. It gave me the creeps. If I imagine that Illum is on its way to becoming just like that, I just want to burn the place and start over.
It's my own fault for not stopping the civilians' delusions. I even encouraged their misguided belief, because I thought that I would benefit from their loyalty in the long run. But it turns out that I simply can't deal with the attention. I am the last person who cares about what others think of me, but religious worship is clearly different. The fanaticism in their eyes is almost worse than slavery.
I shrug, trying to shake off the thought, and attempt to get back on track. “You are right. I am here because I need your fleet or at least a part of it.”
Janice looks surprised. “My fleet? Is anyone coming for us?”
“No,” I answer. “I am coming for them. Illum will soon depart for the continent. At least the part of Illum which is dedicated to warfare. The civilian section will stay here.”
The Sovereign blinks and massages the pen in her hands. “Why do you want to go there? Just let them fight each other until all of them are dead.”
I shake my head. “That's not what I swore to do. I have my goals and I will see them through.”
Getting nervous, she takes up a pen and plays with it. “Are you-”
Raising a hand, I stop her. “This isn't debatable. You knew from the very beginning that I have my own agenda. I held my side of the deal, and now I am calling on yours. When you got me into this mess with my mother and playing family, I demanded that I would be able to call for your assistance. Now, I call on you. Are you going to violate our deal?”
She slowly lets out the air between her lips and sets down the pen. “Okay. I kind of hoped that you would forget about the deal. You didn't.” Her eyes narrow. “Can I remind you that I also set the condition that I wouldn't throw away my people's lives without a good reason.”
I nod. “I won't lie to you. I need a sizeable part of the Mirai's military and it's very likely that a lot of them won't come back. Nonetheless, I can promise you that their lives won't be wasted and, should we succeed, it will change the balance of power in this world. I go as far as to say that it will be changed forever. Both of us know that few things are forever, but I can offer you the real chance that some of your worst enemies might have perished when this is over.”
Janice circles her index fingers around each other, thinking. “What exactly do you need?”
“Ships,” I answer. “The more, the better. I need everything you can spare that isn't needed to protect the Mirai State. We are going to the continent, right into the middle of it.”
“The pyramid,” she concludes. “I thought that the thing is under your control. We got reports that it is heading for the Eternal Battlefield, where it will most likely be boxed in by the forces of several nations. Why do we need to assist it now? If it's important, why didn't you secure it from the beginning? Or do you lack control over it?”
I smile evilly and chuckle. “Oh, I have complete control over it. The important point is that our enemies don't know that. Or at least, they can't be sure that the pyramid is my handiwork. They suspect it, but they have no proof. When we appear with all our forces and demand the pyramid, they will be convinced.”
“Convinced that the pyramid isn't under your control,” Janice mumbles. “You want me to perform a massive fleet parade, just to convince them that the pyramid isn't your doing.”
I spread my hands. “Yes. When they think that we want it, they will want it. Even if they don't know why, they will want it just so that we don't get it. The pyramid is an important piece of my plan.”
“You should listen to yourself. According to my spies, the various nations are flocking around the pyramid like carrion feeders. If I didn't know better, I would think that you filled it up to the top with dragonbone. Even the orks joined the party, as pitiable as their forces might be.” She tilts her head, considering it. “I would really feel better if you told me exactly what you intend to do.”
“That's top secret,” I reply, utterly earnest. “Not even I am sure how exactly this will play out. I have a clear idea of what will happen, but a plan seldom unfolds exactly like the creator wishes it. That's why I have several contingency plans in place.”
Janice nods. “Plans within plans, heh. That's how our kind likes to play it. If we have the time to set up the playing field. I hope that you didn't underestimate the others. They are also old and devious, just like you.”
I smile, not overlooking that she didn't include herself. “Don't compliment me so much! Let's just hope that they underestimated me, simply because I joined the party late.”
She chuckles, showing a little relief. “For some of those old fools, that might even be the case.”