“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m afraid we cannot allow you to leave your boat until the port authority gives their say-so,” the guardsman said mechanically — and to his credit, he hid his annoyance well. This would have been the twentieth time in the last two hours that he’d had to repeat his line.
Not that his annoyance was of any concern to me. No, and it should have been the other way around. Forbidding an Archmage from setting foot in your city because of some measly port regulations? That wouldn’t have happened in any nation of the continent.
It should have been the other way around, and yet it wasn’t. Because if any city could claim to be the most important city in the world, the Floating City was by far the one who could claim that honor. At the very least, there was no other place in the world where you’d need more than one hand to count the number of Archmages. Not even the Academy did, for all it was a place of learning.
Not to mention how more than a tenth of the Floating City consisted of active adventurers, with a good part of the rest having been adventurers at some point in their lives.
No, causing trouble just because I had been made to wait was not an option, and even the single unfortunate guard who’d been tasked with making sure we stayed on the ship knew this.
“It’s been two hours,” I said, summoning every strand of my shredded patience. “How long could it possibly take to do their verifications, or… or — whatever they are doing!”
“I really don’t know, sir,” the guard said as he scratched the back of his neck. “I’m only supposed to—”
“—Make sure we stay on the ship, yes, yes, I know.” I released a suffering sigh.
As I waited, another ship docked in the Floating City’s gargantuan harbor — and less than a minute later, a group disembarked, heading into the city at a quick trot.
I squinted. “Why don’t they get to leave unimpeded?” I asked, irate, as I wove my hands in the adventurers’ direction.
The guard turned around and glanced in the direction I’d pointed. “They’re adventurers. Adventurers get to come and go as they please. Sir.”
“But so are we!” I sputtered. “We just left a dungeon.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, sir. I’m just here to guard things.”
I threw my hands up in the air and turned around, leaving the man to his business. I paced the deck, exasperated — and almost ran into David, who’d been watching my conversation from afar. He deftly sidestepped me, turning what would have been an embarrassing crash into a minor stumble on my side.
“My apologies,” I muttered under my breath, still angered by the guard’s flippant attitude.
“No harm done.” David’s lips were pressed into a tight smile. “I’d probably be mad too, in your place.”
“I don’t understand how they could have the audacity to—” I paused, taking a deep breath to calm myself. I kept reminding myself that I didn’t need to go through the motions, but it helped, either way.
“It’s politics,” David said plainly as he gazed wistfully towards the port.
“Politics? Surely not. The clerk’s reasoning was sound, if inconvenient.” We’d been forbidden to leave the ship because, as the captain of the ship, they needed to confirm my identity. It seemed reasonable to me that they’d want to check high-profile visitors to make sure they were who they said they were.
“What, that you could be impersonating yourself? How are they even going to verify that from their office? Isn’t that something where you’d use something like, I don’t know, a spell?”
I shrugged. “Most of the time, yes — but I’m unfamiliar with their methods. It could be they have a different procedure.”
David shook his head. “Nah. It’s politics, I’m sure. They know full well who you are, they’re just making a statement.”
“That they don’t want me here,” I mused, putting two and two together.
“That too, maybe. Or they could just be posturing. ‘We’re not scared of your fancy title, now shut up and wait.’”
“But really, I don’t get why you told them who you were in the first place. I bet you could have just given them a fake name and they’d have been none the wiser.”
“They would have found out, sooner or later. Secrets don’t stay secret for long, not in this city.”
“But isn’t it dangerous? Like, what’s stopping all the adventurers there from just trying to shank you and get your bounty?”
“They definitely would, were there a bounty in the first place — but there isn’t.”
David tilted his head. “No? Weird. I thought everyone would want you dead.”
“They do, but not actively so. Even I was convinced that only Heroes could slay a Villain. So most people don’t think it’s their problem.”
“Except that guy who did.”
“And there will likely be more like him, yes. But as it is, the Floating City prides itself on its neutrality — and their ability to enforce it. Even the Temples have to step carefully around its ruling council. Which means we should as safe as can be once we’re off the ship, so long as we don’t cause any trouble.”
“You say that, but they haven’t let us on their land yet.”
“Yes, that’s an unfortunate complication,” I said with a frown. “But I believe we’ll have an answer soon.” As I spoke, a stout woman was making her way along the docks, heading straight towards my ship. I gestured in her direction. “I believe the wait is at an end.”
“Not the same clerk,” David noted.
“Indeed. I believe I shall go speak with her. Would you like to join me?”
He hesitated, throwing a worried gaze around. Then he blinked twice and nodded. “Why the hell not. This’ll be fun, at least.”
I grimaced. “Fun is not the word I’d use to describe this,” I said and started back in the direction of the surly guard.
By the time we’d made it to the gangway, the woman was already chatting quietly with the guard. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but at the very least, the guard didn’t seem any more happy to be talking with her than he had been with me.
She carried an armful of papers, and I so desperately hoped she hadn’t come to inflict them on me.
“Mister… Crane, yes?” she asked, checking her papers as she talked.
“Archmage Crane. But yes.” I hadn’t become one of the greatest mages alive just so I could be called mister.
“Of course, as you say. I am Freida Gelst of the Alasviran Port Authority,” she said as she tucked an errant hair behind her ear.
Alasvir. I was surprised to see her referring to the Floating City by its proper name. As far as I was aware, even most official documents referred to the city by its moniker.
“Now, you say you are the owner of this vessel?”
“See? Politics. Didn’t even apologize properly,” David muttered under his breath, hiding his mouth with his hand as he pretended to cough.
Even I hadn’t been that blind as to not notice the insult, but I wasn’t so sure it was intentional. Freida looked… haggard. Her face was drawn, with bags circling her eyes. But she could have been pretending, too. I composed myself, schooling my face into a mask of serenity. If nothing else, I would not play willingly into a trap.
“That is correct. The Reborn Sparrow belongs to me.”
“I see,” she said as she made a mark with her pen. “Have you acquired this vessel recently? It does not appear in the public registry.”
Was this an attempt to accuse me of having stolen the ship? Or was it merely the result of meticulous record-keeping? This was why I preferred the company of books — much less ambiguity. But in the end, I figured out honesty would be the best approach. “It was shipwrecked many years ago. I only finished restoring it last week.”
Freida’s eyebrows shot up, and she raised her eyes from her papers, taking a long look at the corvette. Her gaze softened as she did. “I… see. Since this is your first time in Port Alasvir, I have to inform you that unregistered vessels are not allowed to dock here. However, since your ship has been operational for less than two months, you may register it in Port Alasvir.”
I blinked in surprise — that was much more helpful than I’d been expecting. “And what does registering entail?”
“Merely a Fate oath to confirm that you are, in fact, the owner of the vessel.”
My eyes narrowed. Was this a trap? I wasn’t familiar with ships, and less so with the typical regulations surrounding them, but I did know Fate magic was often used to ascertain the truth — it was definitely possible that they used Fate oaths as proof of ownership.
But no — there was no way it could be a trap. Surely they were not stupid enough to set a magical trap for an Archmage, of all people? I could simply take a moment to analyze the spell before submitting myself to it, and they had to know that.
“Is that the normal procedure?”
“A Fate oath?” Freida asked as she tilted her head, and I nodded. “It is in this port, though I understand not all ports have the same procedure for registering — but the registry itself is shared.”
I pondered her words for a few moments, and she waited patiently as she shuffled around her papers. “Very well,” I said finally. “I wish to register the ship.”
She nodded as if she’d been expecting my answer. “Very well. Please follow me to the main office — I’m afraid your companion must remain on the ship until you are finished with the registration,” she said, frowning at David who had made to follow.
The boy shrugged and shot me a wink as he stepped back. “I’ll just go play cards with the others.”
I followed Freida to the port authority’s office — and I cringed as I saw whole stacks of paper lying on the floor, occupying every square inch of space. The Fate oath itself was standard, despite the attending mage’s sloppy execution. And soon enough, the Reborn Sparrow was registered with Port Alasvir as its home base.
“My companions are free to disembark, then?” I asked as I finished signing the final copy of the registration form.
“Yes,” Freida said with a curt nod.
“Hey, that’s great!” David exclaimed, materializing out of thin air just behind the port official.
To her credit, she didn’t scream, although she did jump a good few feet away. “You…” she said, struggling to catch her breath, “you were supposed to be on the ship.”
“I was on the ship,” David said innocently. “But I’m here, now.”
Both Freida and I narrowed our eyes at him — she’d have known he had followed us all along, but she wouldn’t have had any proof. At least, I hoped she didn’t, because I didn’t fancy having to go through more waiting because David wanted get back at a clerk. Finally, she sighed, her icy demeanor cracking. “Fine, just… go. I don’t care anymore. My bosses will have to suck it up.”
“Your bosses?” I asked, tilting my head.
“I’m not paid enough to deal with this, and I’m already behind on my work. Just go.”
“Very well. Thank you for your assistance,” I said with a nod, and headed back to the ship, David in tow.
I barely restrained the urge to box his ears. “You almost prolonged our wait,” I said in an accusatory tone.
David brought his hands up defensively. “Hey, don’t shoot! It was for a good cause.”
“Was it?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yup. Got to look around the offices and all that. Found this interesting letter on her desk, with a fancy-ass seal on it — ordering her to keep you in the port for as long as she could.”
“But she sought me out on her own,” I mused.
“Because there was another fancy letter telling her to let you in ASAP.”
I sighed. “Great.”
“See? Told you. It’s all politics.”
“Please stop saying ‘politics.’”