“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.”
- The Journey to the Afterlife
***Kingdom Newerth, Capital City***
“...so Elona and I believe that there are four more bases like the one which we destroyed. One of them seems to function as a command centre. There is a lot of traffic between it and the other locations.” Shade ends his explanation of their findings. It took Elona and him over a week to make sense of the information which was gathered by the pathway network. But once they had it, they immediately called in a big gathering between all the people who are in charge.
Since my side of the family showed up in numbers and Marcus's parents appeared with their staff, we were forced to move the entire meeting to one of the big rooms in our palace. It almost feels like sitting in a small classroom with Mom and Dad as the teachers.
Marcus and I are also attending, sitting right next to each other. Listening to the long and boring theory behind the final conclusion was a real ordeal. Unfortunately it was necessary to know how we got the information and that it isn't necessarily conclusive. A very important thing about warfare is to have more intelligence than your enemy. Though it's almost equally important to know how far you can trust your own intelligence gathering network.
Elona takes up from where Shade left off. “Please keep in mind that we base our conclusions entirely on the amount of registered traffic between the four locations. We've no intelligence on the actual size of each supposed base. All we know, are the amount of portals which were opened recently, and their mass output. We've a good bet, according to the transported mass, but the bases might turn out to be far larger than expected.”
“Or nothing more than a command centre,” Shade cuts in.
The room stays completely quiet while everyone is trying to draw their own conclusions on the gathered data. I survey the audience and decide to focus on Charles and Clarity. The king and queen of Newerth were listening silently during the entire meeting. They are the ones who are the most interested in this information. After all it's their kingdom which is in the line of fire.
Dedessia's nomadic culture is too evasive to be targeted easily by the spirits. Mom and Dad designed their floating cities for the sole purpose of avoiding Dedessia's harsh environmental conditions. If an area becomes too hostile to live in, we simply pack up and leave.
There are eighteen cities like our capital under my parents' rule. All of them are connected by portals, but they are physically far away from each other. So even if one city falls victim to some calamity, the others can go on as if nothing happened.
Now Clarity gestures at the wall behind Elona and Shade. It's completely covered with a projection of the gathered information and visualizes it in a two-dimensional map, showing the traffic between the four locations. “How can we be sure that we are looking at enemy movements? Isn't it possible that there is a third party which discovered interdimensional travel?”
Elona turns to the map. “We can't rule it out completely, but there is the fact that the traffic is going in both directions. At regular intervals I might add.
“A realm which is being invaded would have traffic going in just one direction. In the case of these four locations, we aren't looking at two parties who are fighting a war. It would mean that they keep a tight and regular schedule in attacking each other, which sounds horrendously stupid to me. Their portal pattern is too regular. We also aren't watching the movements of spies. Some of the opened portals are moving too much mass for that. The pattern looks more like large amounts of supplies are being moved around.”
Shade gestures at a few other points on the map. “These eleven locations fulfil what we would expect of spy-movements. Short portal activations with small amounts of moved mass in both directions. I think it's highly likely that, by paying a visit, we'll find civilisations which are similar to us. A few more allies might not be so bad. At the very least we should send them a message to make them aware of their situation. Even if they aren't suitable allies, they might be able to cause some local trouble.”
I reach out to hold Marcus's hand. He is sitting silently at my side, listening to everything.
Charles nods slowly. “Speaking of allies, I've sent word about the situation to our neighbours. Normally I like it to play my cards close to the chest, but in this case more awareness might be to our advantage. As I understood it, Dedessia's biggest problem is manpower. There aren't many of you. If it's needed, we can strike a deal with Newerth's neighbours to acquire more troops, though I would like to avoid that because the other nations of this realm would surely try to extort something from us in return.”
Surprised, I lean back in my chair and whisper to Marcus. “Are there many other nations who would help? I thought that there is a state of neutrality between all the nations of this realm.”
Marcus shrugs. “Normally we try our best to keep the status quo, mainly because everyone is afraid of getting unlucky with a spirit invasion. Once they learn about the spirits' true nature, they will surely send some help our way.”
Or this realm might devolve into chaos. There was no war between the various nations because the spirits posed a constant threat. If one nation were to attack another and the spirits decide to invade at exactly that moment, it might become ugly for all sides.
Marcus shakes his head, reading my thoughts. “Don't worry. I won't deny that some idiots will surely try to grab more power, but I've trust in this society. Even if two nations clash, their neighbours will immediately intervene and attack the offender. Nobody wants an area which is weakened by war right next to their home. It would be like inviting the spirits to dinner. In any case, given the size of a whole realm, it would make no difference in the grand scheme of things.”
Elona clicks her fingernails on the table in front of her, thinking over the offer. “It might come to that. But as it looks now, we wouldn't be able to face the enemy head on anyway. Even if we had unlimited troops in form of higher immortals, we would have the same problem as our enemies. Once the pathways are available for everyone we can pop up wherever we want. But until then we have to use portals, which means that we have to fight through a bottleneck. Small strategic strikes with well equipped troops are much more promising. We have to take out their leaders until they lose their interest in conquest.”
The discussion goes on for a while until nobody can think of anything more to say. When all is said and done, the people start leaving in order to return to their responsibilities. Speaking of responsibilities, “Marcus, what about our jobs as teachers? I've been so taken up by everything that I didn't even think of checking on my students.”
He sighs. “Don't worry. Everything has been taken care of. And besides, the academy is still a mess from the last attack. A lot of people died, students included. Most have been sent home and given materials for self study. The academy is closed until the next semester. So we couldn't teach, even if we wanted to.” Slowly, his expression turns devious. “Why don't we pay your shop a visit? I need a coffee after this boring meeting. All the planning and talking made me tired.”
My own expression lightens up at the thought. “That's a really good idea. And we are the only ones who stayed behind anyway.” Without waiting, I hug him and teleport us directly to my shop. Once we arrive, we are greeted by peculiar scene.
“Let go of me!”
“Mwahaha! Nope! Jazira, did you really think that you would manage to hide from me forever?”
“I didn't hide! And I am Adea now!”
“And why did you always disappear when I showed up with Shade? I had to pay an irregular visit to catch you off guard.”
“I don't even know who you are!”
“Don't say that. Weren't we the best girlfriends, ever? All it would take now, would be to find Lidith and the old trio would be complete. I wonder if the old cat is doing well.” Elona studies the ceiling in silent contemplation. Her tail is holding the struggling Adea in a tight grip, stopping her from running away.
“Would you please let go of my daughter?” Adea's mother, Patricia, pulls at the tail in a vain attempt to free her daughter. Since she is just an immortal of low power, she isn't even considered as a combatant by my mother. It's as if a toddler is trying to pull at an adult.
“All I want is to do some catching up? Is that so hard to understand? We've so much to talk about and I might even be able to help you with your powers.” Elona pulls Adea to one of the many empty tables. The shop tends to empty when my parents show up in spirit form.
The last proposition finally causes Adea to stop her struggles. “You can help with my powers?”
“Obviously? Duh!? Don't you remember that I was there when you started to get them under control? We talked about everything back then. At least I am sure that I can give you some pointers.”