“Boss…” said Stanley, an uncomfortable look on his face.
“It’s all right,” I said soothingly. “That’s a story from a long time ago. In any case, just like Carmida, Atarain is no longer worshipped anywhere, under any name. Zedda was… thorough.”
Stanley still looked uncomfortable. He opened his mouth a couple times, but no words came out.
Suddenly, the phone on my desk rang. Stanley and I both jumped slightly at this unexpected interruption, but I quickly recovered and picked up the receiver. “Hello, this is Cymphica Atri, Metria speaking.”
“Mikael Ramero,” spoke a familiar voice, shortly. I sighed in relief.
“Shen. I’m glad you’re alright,” I said warmly. Across from me, Stanley shrugged slightly and smiled.
“No problem,” he replied.
“Well, good,” I said. “So, what can you tell me about our cyborg friend?”
“Mikael Ramero,” Shen repeated. “Cyborg from Derrick. High Council Mechanized Agent.”
“Schirch,” I swore with feeling. “This was bad enough as it is, without the Derrick High Council getting involved. Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. Followed him to the Furrows. Realized he was followed, set off a trap. I was surprised.”
“Were you injured?” I asked anxiously.
“Minor injury. Not a problem. Lucy is fixing.”
I sighed. “Thank goodness. I’d really like to meet Lucy someday.”
There was a moment of silence, and then he replied, “Lucy doesn’t want to meet you. Sorry.”
“No, no, that’s alright,” I said immediately. “I respect her privacy.”
“It’s nothing. Please return when you can, Shen.”
“Yes. Be careful. Boss.”
“I will,” I promised, before hanging up the phone. I took a deep breath, then looked over at Stanley, who had been watching me anxiously. I gave him a bright, fake smile. “Congratulations, Stanley, you just volunteered for archive duty.”
The boy winced, and grumbled, “I hate paperwork… What am I looking for, Boss?”
“Check the files relating to the Derrick High Council for mentions of a Mechanized Agent named ‘Mikael Ramero’. I want everything we know about this guy as soon as possible.”
Stanley paled. “A Mechanized Agent. Holy crap, Boss.”
I nodded grimly. “I’m praying that Shen is wrong, but just in case, get me everything we have.”
“On it, Boss,” he said, before hurrying out of the room, heading for the paper archive in the basement. I turned on my Screen, and began browsing through the various information I had stored on the Derrick High Council. There wasn’t much, at the moment; I had investigated Derrick many times in the past, of course, but I was currently much more concerned about the situation in the city, and the data contained in my screen reflected this. But Derrick would always be a threat, and so I kept an eye on them at all times.
Not long after Zedda went to sleep…no, even before then, strange rumors had begun to arise that Derrick, a minor Kingdom far to the north-east of this city, had discovered a new weapon. Such rumors were commonplace, of course, and no one had given them much credence, including myself.
And to be fair, the rumors were not true, after all. They underestimated the state of affairs by an order of magnitude, or several.
What had arisen in Derrick was not a new weapon, but an entire new branch of scientific discovery. A trio of geniuses had discovered ways to use naturally occurring crystals to do all sorts of unusual things. For one, they could store and manipulate a type of power completely different from either magical power or necromantic energy, a power that came to be known as “Crystalline Force.” This force could be used to do many things, from creating light, to operating machinery, to enhancing human abilities. It could even be used to store information in a compact form, which was the origin of the Screen that sat on my desk.
The effects of the new technology could not be overstated. To begin with, the royalty and nobility of Derrick were quickly removed from power, to be replaced by a “Federation” of allied local powers, headed by a mysterious High Council. This new government proved very effective at anti-spy measures; myself included, no one outside of Derrick had any idea what went on inside the High Council.
In the natural course of things, this imbalance would naturally cause nearby, paranoid countries to start eyeing their borders and preparing armies for invasion. But the High Council of Derrick played a move so decisive, it leaves me slightly in awe even now.
Rather than keeping their new secrets to themselves, they released them freely.
Oh, not everything, of course; they reserved a lot of the best tricks for themselves. But the basics of crystal technology, the properties of Crystalline Force, the base principles of informations storage, were all released to the surrounding nations. And not just released; instructors were sent out to teach not only how the crystals could be used, but how they worked, and even how they could be produced. Not all at once, either, but in slow, easily attainable increments.
This bizarre openness shocked Derrick’s neighbors, and I’m certain they all wondered why Derrick would give up such a priceless advantage. But the wisdom of the High Council was quickly proven: as the surrounding nations became stronger, and became accustomed to the conveniences Derrick’s technology brought them, they began to watch each other very closely, to make sure that they would not lose this uncanny source of knowledge to a greedy neighbor. And soon, the nations surrounding them became interested as well, and they suddenly found themselves working together to protect their own national interests, forming a sort of buffer zone around Derrick itself. Meanwhile, the new technology drifted outwards, changing what it touched, until it even arrived in this nameless city.
That was a number of years ago, now. Eventually, under the influence of crystal technology, those nations surrounding Derrick began to resemble Derrick itself to such a degree, that it was almost anti-climactic when they applied to join Derrick’s federation. Derrick’s power had snowballed, and it was now the single most powerful empire on the continent, and possibly in the world. But even now, no one knew the true goals of the High Council, and sometimes when I had nothing better to do, I would spend some time worrying about what they had planned for this world.
But although I did attempt to keep an eye on their activities, I had never truly pushed the issue. I was… afraid… of their unknown capabilities. Derrick’s High Council frightened me, Lord Baera’s Chosen. It was humiliating.
But having met Zedda again, I had realized that he still scared me more. For some ridiculous reason, that made me feel a bit better.
I wonder if I am insane. It would explain a lot.
Later that morning, Stanley returned my office and dropped a stack of papers on my desk. I woke up from my musings and smiled at him. “Thank you, Stanley. How did it go?”
He snorted, and said, “A lot better once old man Broign showed up to tell me where things were. His filing system is completely nuts, Boss.”
I frowned and said, “Broign came? I told everyone to stay away. It’s not safe–”
Stanley waved off my words. “Yeah, nobody actually listens when you say stuff like that, Boss, you know that. Setting aside old man Broign, Aron’s got a crew out front repairing the window and the bar, and Sephis and Maldron are waiting for you in the conference room.
“Sephis seems ticked, by the way,” he added. “She wanted me to tell her who the assassin was, but I told her to wait until you’re ready, Boss. Thought she was going to stab me instead,” he said with a chuckle.
“That girl…” I sighed, and rubbed my forehead. “Never mind, I’ll deal with all that later. What did you find on Mikael Ramero?”
Stanley quickly became serious. “OK, bad news first: looks like he really is a Mechanized Agent, and the description fits the guy that shot you. So he’s certain to be packing all sorts of weird juju, not just guns and a barrier.”
“Damn it,” I groaned. “This is the last thing we need… Is there actually good news after that?”
“Kinda,” he nodded. “It seems like, as of six months or so ago, he’s rogue.”
“What!?” I straightened in surprise. “Are you sure?”
“Broign said it was about a 70% likelihood, so take that for what it’s worth, I guess. But there’s some evidence,” he gestured at the papers in front of me, “that he’s been taking commissions for assassinations. Nothing too blatant, but when you consider his original area of activity was in the Western Straits, and now he’s suddenly wandering east, it makes you wonder, y’know?”
“Praise Baera,” I said with some relief. “As long as he’s working for a local power, and not the High Council, I’m not too worried about him.”
Stanley frowned. “He nearly killed you, Boss,” he said reprovingly.
“He chose the worst possible moment to try, however,” I said, rather primly. “He’s picked a fight with Zedda, now; and that can never end well.”
“If you say so, Boss,” replied Stanley, obviously unconvinced. I didn’t try to argue with him.
“All right, Stanley, go tell Maldron I’ll be out as soon as I review these files, and tell Sephis that if she doesn’t calm down, I’ll make her go work for Broign for another week.”
“Harsh, Boss,” he chuckled.
“Quiet, boy, or I’ll make you join her,” I mock-threatened. Stanley immediately held his hands up in surrender. “Next I want you to go check on–”
I was interrupted, once again, by the ringing of the phone on my desk. Feeling slightly irritated, I answered the phone, only to have the irritation quickly drained out of me, leaving an uncomfortable, hollow feeling.
The call was from Jack Cross. Zedda had just escaped confinement, and was now at large. Feeling a shiver down my spine, I agreed to tell Cross if Zedda contacted me, and quickly hung up the phone. Suddenly, the High Council seemed very far away, and unimportant.
Zagadactulus Invodotus Gedarasus had begun an investigation. Perhaps the Reaper Lords would show mercy; but Zedda would show none.
- Yeah, I still write this. Why do you ask? 😛
- I hope what I hoped to convey with this chapter got conveyed… Technically this is all subplot, but world building waits for no man, or something… Hope the plot holes don’t end up too huge…
- Freaking names. I need to get someone else to name my characters, this is just too painful… 😦
- Metria? Paranoid? You jest… 😛
- Enough of this. Let’s go back to Zedda. (+1 Irene.) 😉