A hundred and twenty-one hours gave me just over five days to get ready. I really didn’t think cutting it close was a good idea, though. Not when I had no clue how long it might take until there was another chance to get into this hideout. So I figured that rounding it down to four days was probably the safer option.
I spent the first day on prep. I didn’t have a clear idea what to expect, what kind of defenses Jason might have in place in his sanctum, but it seemed pretty obvious that I wanted to be prepared for some fairly unpleasant things in there.
I started by spending some time with Legion working on new foci to replace the ones that I’d lost when…well. When I lost pretty much everything else. It was an interesting piece of work, manufacturing things that weren’t so much objects as ideas. In some ways it was much simpler, more straightforward than the foci I was used to making. It was the same basic idea of creating a conceptual filter to make a certain type of magic flow more easily, without the added step of tying that filter to a physical object.
It was also very strange, though, requiring me to think in ways that were alien to how I was used to looking at the world. It almost reminded me of that optical illusion that could look like two faces or a vase, depending on how you interpreted it. Either way of looking at it made perfect sense. You could even switch back and forth. But try and make them line up with each other, or see them both at once, and things started to break down.
This was like that. The way I was used to making foci, to thinking of them, was one approach. This was another. Individually, either of them was perfectly viable. But there was such a fundamental difference in how they looked at things that going from one to the other was…hard, to say the least.
As I was working on the foci, I found myself feeling very grateful for the differences in how I functioned. I didn’t get sleepy, or tired. I didn’t even get bored, at least not the way I used to. Repetitive tasks were still tedious, but that fidgety restlessness just…wasn’t there. I could keep working as long as I needed to.
It took around thirty hours straight of work in the laboratory. But in the end I had a couple of the foci that I was more likely to need, and a couple of stored spells.
I’d have liked to make more, but the process was time-consuming, and I was acutely aware of the ticking clock. I still had a lot of other things I had to get done, other commitments to follow up on.
Having a strict, but distant, deadline was an interesting experience that way. I had to balance things. It wasn’t enough to want to do something; I had to consider whether I wanted it more than all of the other things that I could do with that time instead. And while I would certainly like to have more equipment before going into this mysterious hideout of a world, I couldn’t afford to spend all my time on it. I had other obligations that I couldn’t neglect, especially when there was a very real chance that I wouldn’t make it back.
So once I had that basic set of equipment, it was time to wake Snowflake and get back to Colorado, to follow up on some things that needed work.
Once again, there was a dramatic reaction when I walked into my throne room. I was starting to think that would always be the case, at this point. Things had just developed in a way where that was inevitable.
The reaction this time was a little more…frenetic than most, though. There were probably a dozen people instantly clamoring for my attention, each one raising their voice louder than the last in an attempt to be heard over the din.
It made sense, I supposed. I hadn’t been here in…I wasn’t entirely sure how long. A while. Things had built up that I needed to deal with.
“Hush,” I said, loudly enough that I drowned out the shouting. Not having actual lungs was nice that way. A lot of the normal limitations just didn’t apply to me.
People hushed. I think they were more impressed by the sheer volume than any great charisma on my part. Snowflake, certainly, winced at the sound. But it got them to quiet down, which was what counted.
“Now, one at a time,” I said, walking through the crowd to my throne. “And briefly. My time is very limited.”
There was a moment of silence before Tindr stepped forward. He cleared his throat. “Finances are stable,” he said. “Assets were…significantly drained by your recent expenditures, but I believe that we have adjusted for them at this point. A detailed breakdown can wait until you have more time.”
“Good,” I said. “Next.”
“Situation is stable,” Kyi said. Her voice was crisp, and just the slightest bit cold. “A handful of people were causing problems of one sort or another.”
“They were dealt with,” she said simply. “There were no particularly powerful people involved. No one that required your attention.”
I frowned. “Dealt with how?” I asked.
“Lethally, in some cases,” she said. “A group of looters, an arsonist. Most could be discouraged without such drastic measures.”
I wanted to be upset that she’d killed people–or, more accurately, that she’d done so without my orders, without even confirming it with me first. But then, I hadn’t been around, had I? I’d been off doing other things. And it wasn’t like I’d have said anything different if she had asked. I could sympathize with a lot of people. There were a lot of people I could offer a second chance to. But the looters? The people who, with things as bad as they already were, went out and made them that little bit worse? Those people weren’t on the list. And Kyi had plenty of ground to know that, too.
As was getting to be a disturbingly frequent experience, I felt like I should be upset by what was happening, like I should be disturbed or morally outraged. But when I actually tried to find a reason to feel that way, it just…wasn’t there. Kyi hadn’t done anything wrong.
I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was happy with that thought. But, as usual, I couldn’t really take the time to figure out what to do about it, or even if I wanted to do anything about it. So I put it on the list of things to look into later.
That list was disturbingly long, at this point. I was pretty sure there were important things on that list that I’d forgotten about, by now. It was getting to be an actual problem. Which, and this was the really fun part, was in and of itself a problem that I had to put off to later.
“Okay,” I said. “So the situation is stable. Nothing that needs my attention?”
“Not immediately, no, jarl,” she said.
The computer expert I’d hired was the next to speak–Greg, I thought his name was. “We’ve finished decrypting those files,” he said.
He shrugged. “There’s a lot of information there. I’m not sure whether you’ll find any of it useful.”
I grimaced. “Of course. There’s a copy of the decrypted files?”
“The hard drive is in your office.”
“All right,” I said. “I’ll look at that later, then. And I’ll hold you responsible if anything happens to the data in the meantime.”
“I’d expect nothing less,” he said, with a wry smile.
“All right, then,” I said. “Next.”
“There are a handful of diplomatic requests,” Selene said. “Things that need you to respond to them personally.”
“Anything that can’t wait for a week?”
She shook her head.
“All right, then. I’ll look at it later.”
“There are also a handful of personnel adjustments,” she said. “Mostly routine, but there is one thing that I think you need to be aware of. You recall the entity from Limbo that you hired?”
I frowned for a moment, trying to remember what she was talking about. Then it clicked. “You mean the one Crim summoned?”
“That’s the one,” Selene confirmed. “She’s…well. She seems to be struggling. We aren’t entirely sure why, but it seems like she’s losing her grip on things.”
“Can you…clarify that a little?” I asked.
“Not really,” she said, sounding distinctly unhappy about that fact. “Her behavior has been…inconsistent. Unpredictable. So far she’s been willing to listen to us when we rein her in, and the only violence has been fairly minor. But it’s anyone’s guess how long that will last.”
I sighed. “Okay, then,” I said. “See if you can find more on…whatever she is. Probably start by asking Alexander. Oh, and find out who she was. There should be records.”
“I’ll get someone on that,” she said.
“Good. And…make arrangements, for if it doesn’t work out. She’s tough as hell, but she’s not invincible.”
“I’ll see to it,” Selene said.
I nodded. “All right, then. Anything else?”
“Yes,” she said. “David wants to meet with you.”
I smiled without any particular humor. “What a coincidence,” I said. “I’d quite like to talk to him too. Arrange a meeting as soon as possible.”
“Will do. Should be tomorrow, I’m guessing, from what he was saying about his schedule.”
“Good. Let me know when you know the details. In the meantime I’m going to do something else. Something…restful, I think.”