After they were all seated, Mrs. Hamilton glanced around at the other people sitting at the table. In total, there were fifteen, all neatly spaced around the perfect circle of a table so there was a clear view of every individual. Seeing so many of New Earth’s elite in one place, Mrs. Hamilton could only sadly lament that those individuals at the top were swiftly returning to the trappings of status.
Almost everyone, with the notable exceptions of Donnyton’s group, Zone 11’s group, and Phirun himself wore ornate suits sewn from bright cloth. Rather than world leaders, the people here looked like peacocks. Tutting to herself, Mrs. Hamilton reviewed the identity of everyone present.
The two from Donnyton and two from Zone Eleven Mrs. Hamilton knew quite personally. There was also Phirun, who had come alone from his Zone for the meeting. Han Yazhu gave Mrs. Hamilton a perfunctory smile as she sat down only two seats from him, then continued to speak in a low tone toward the two aides that he had brought with him from Zone Seven.
Some part of Mrs. Hamilton wanted to antagonize him purposefully after Zone Seven had so deliberately set about undercutting East End’s elemental exports, but Mrs. Hamilton restrained herself. Before she had come, she had spoken at length with most of the leaders of Zone 32’s Villages, including Sydney. If anything, Sydney had seemed almost pleased that Zone Seven had challenged them, even as profits from their business were drying up.
Which likely meant that the chill-inducing leader of East End had another card to play and that Donnyton shouldn’t try and interfere.
It’s a little reductive, but Sydney certainly fits the bill of someone who grew up knowing Randidly Ghosthound. Her determination is… abnormal.
Then Mrs. Hamilton severed her own animosity toward Han Yazhu and turned to some of the other figures at the table.
One of the more sizable contingents at the table were representatives at the Orders. In total, four Orders were present: Order Ferocitas, the Order Sapientia, the Order Sanus, and someone from an Order with an insignia that Mrs. Hamilton didn’t recognize on sight. All bore their brightly colored Order livery very proudly.
But it was strange that someone from and Order Mrs. Hamilton didn’t recognize was present because although the announcement of the Orders and the growing popularity of them meant that they had blossomed at the beginning, the last few months the Orders had begun to consolidate into a few hegemons of power. And Mrs. Hamilton made it a point to keep track of these things.
Ferocity, Wisdom, and Health, the three Orders that Mrs. Hamilton recognized, were the primary beneficiaries of these reshufflings of power. The Orders Fide, Caelim, Ferrus, and Umbra were slowly diminishing down to smaller entities. The Order Veritas continued to serve as judges and adjudicators across the Zones, but their recruitment was relatively strenuous and they didn’t seek to gather secular power.
And the Order Ducis’ possessed the almost comically difficult recruitment standard of tracking down an entire moving city… well, suffice to say that while the Order Ducis was the overlords of the Order, they were effectively absent for the time being and had been for a couple of months.
There were also two individuals from the newly connected Zone to Earth, Zone 19. The man and the woman representatives both had their hair tied behind their head in a bun and shared tanned and wrinkled skin. The resemblance was so uncanny that Mrs. Hamilton couldn’t help but conclude that these people were related.
From what she understood, Zone 19 possessed a much smaller population than the other connected Zones. In addition, the team that had passed the Raid Dungeon had suffered rather grievous casualties in the process. So much so that there was no longer much centralized authority in the Zone. If anything, it was a miracle that this Zone had managed to join onto New Earth.
However, the reason that they were able to brute force their way through the Raid Dungeon was clear; in a way that perhaps only Phirun’s Zone could rival, Zone 19 was a treasure trove of natural resources. Even though only a few independent traders had made it from Zone 19 to Zone 1 so far, the metals and gems they had brought were so wondrous that apparently Erickson Steel’s City had moved through the populated regions and collected all the raw materials it could.
Apparently, it was precisely these resources that enabled the Zone to succeed at the Raid Dungeon. In spite of the fact there was no one who had taken on a role like Sam to lead a forging revolution, the clumsy methods of Zone 19 worked. All they had to do was sharpen one end of the metals they mined and swing it at monsters. That was how powerful these materials were.
In fact, everyone wanted to establish an agreement with the new Zone. But there was one factor that explained why these two figures hadn’t agreed to anything and their frowns were so severe.
The bloodless murders.
Someone had recently snuck into the newly connected Zone and was freely killing Zone 19’s inhabitants. It was also clear from the tracks that Zone 19 had discovered that this individual came from New Earth with no intention of hiding his or her movements. Yet even as they pursued the trail day and night, no one could catch the ghost-like killer. And until the culprit could be determined, there was very little chance of these two entering into an agreement with any other Zone regarding their significant natural resources.
Honestly, Mrs. Hamilton was surprised that these two had agreed to attend. It was no small thing to bring these two very bitter individuals to the table. It took quite the force of personality to move them. Mrs. Hamilton’s gaze shifted to the smiling woman who sat at the head of the table.
Theodora Greyman, the recently elected president of Zone 1, wore a relatively demure sky-blue sleeveless dress and looked on to the quietly talking attendees with obvious relish.
The first thing that was obvious about Theodora Greyman was how young and pretty she was. Her hair was dark and she had the sort of natural charisma that made it difficult not to return one of her wide and honest smiles.
Perhaps more obviously impressive to Mrs. Hamilton was the story of the woman’s rise to power. Theodora Greyman was a relatively recently liberated individual from the borderlands who had adapted remarkably quickly to System life. In addition, she had taken the political world of Zone 1 by storm. Whereas most powerful individuals were satisfied with setting up bases of power and becoming incumbent Senators, Theodora had risen in popularity due to her leadership as a member of Zone 1’s Internal Security Administration and used that to seize the presidency.
Although she had only been able to raise her Level to the early 30s around the time she rose to prominence, her leadership as the first waves of monsters rampaging from Zone Eleven had protected Zone 1 from a disastrous flood of Raid Bosses into its heartlands. With that victory as a launching point, she had begun campaigning on the platform of dismantling many of the pre-System government administrations and reshuffling the Zone 1 government to engage more directly with the problems the world now faced.
They needed to adapt, Theodora Greyman claimed. And despite the relatively tepid response from Congress, the people agreed.
She had fought on the front lines, she supported science funding and expanded System-focused schools, and, as Mrs. Hamilton had earlier noted, she was charming. She won the seat of President of Zone 1 by a landslide despite having no real allies among the Senators. Following that, she had cashed in her first political fistful of political clout not to accomplish her stated platform goals, but by organizing the first World Summit of New Earth.
Mrs. Hamilton watched Theodora Greyman carefully, wondering what sort of individual she would turn out to be. She also didn’t overlook the fact that Theodora had continued to fight, to the point that she now was Level 48. Which meant that she didn’t currently have a Fate, but getting to Level 50 in a little less than nine months was not possible for someone who avoided hard work.
In contrast… Mrs. Hamilton glanced sideways at Phirun, who was only Level 29. It had clearly been quite a long time since he was required to actively fight his opponents. A shirtless, towering pillar of a man standing with his arms folded behind Phirun noticed Mrs. Hamilton’s look and gave her a glower that warned her of being too free with even her glances. Mrs. Hamilton kept her face mild as she turned her face away.
Theodora spread her hands and opened her mouth. “Everyone, thanks for coming. The System made Earth a tough place, but it’s not something that we can’t overcome if we work together. And also… I agree completely with King Phirun’s earlier sentiments: let’s not beat around the bush. We are all busy people. If no one has anything else to say, let’s get started.”
Mrs. Hamilton’s eyebrow quirked up at the frank admission of Phirun’s status as a King, but she supposed it wasn’t surprising. This was a woman who didn’t hold the old world order in very high standing. Theodora Greyman couldn’t be older than 30. Throwing Phirun a bone cost her basically nothing, and it could earn her some valuable goodwill.
Which, based on Phirun’s expression, it had,
Mrs. Hamilton considered the rather lecherously pleased look Phirun was giving Theodora. Theodora boldly returned his smile before speaking again. “The set up is simple: each delegation will be given the opportunity to bring up an issue for the World Summit’s consideration. After some discussion, we will vote, for and against. Each representative’s vote on an issue will be assumed to be binding on the Zone behind them. If that turns out not to be the case… well, I don’t need to explain why not keeping your word would be a bad idea, right?”
Theodora grinned. The four representatives from the Orders laughed nervously. Phirun guffawed. Even Melanie, sitting next to Warlord, snorted.
“Wait a moment. I have something I want to say before we start.”
Mrs. Hamilton could have kissed Ed as he stood and stroked his mustache just as Theodora Greyman was building up momentum. Not that Mrs. Hamilton had anything against the woman, but there were a few issues before the actual World Summit could start. And she somehow knew Ed, someone who was a notorious stickler for status, wouldn’t miss the first issue.
Ed pointed his fat finger toward the representative of the Orders. “Who the hell is this? Especially that guy. Are they really the sort of people that should be at the table with people like us…?”
Mrs. Hamilton literally had to cough to cover the bark of laughter when support for the question emerged from an extremely unlikely source.
“Indeed,” Phirun nodded solemnly as he studied the four people from the Orders. He picked his nose and flung a moist booger into the open area in the middle of the table. “Most of the rest of you represent land, which I magnanimously choose to acknowledge. But these people… aren’t they just members of a social club or something?”
A tall man amongst the people from the Orders stood. The emblem on his chest indicated he was from the Order Sapientia. He bowed toward Phirun. “Begging your majesty’s pardon, but we believe deserve to be here at the table for the World Summit. Not only that, but we believe that once we explain our position, you will agree.”
Phirun rubbed his chin. Mrs. Hamilton tutted inwardly.
Certainly, the world has gotten strange. So easily we mimick the language and roles of fantasy…
The tall man continued to speak to the table. “You might all represent more powerful forces than us… but let me say this; most of your power is stationary. You require a significant expenditure of resources to protect your territories from the constant threat of Dungeons and monsters. A truly magnanimous goal, undoubtedly. But in some ways, the great strength of the Zones means they have more difficulty responding to smaller threats.
“Meanwhile, we Orders are forces that are composed almost entirely of high-Leveled individuals with no hard roots in any one Zone. Therefore, we are uniquely poised to accomplish the will of the World Summit. The reason we are here is simple: we wish to offer our services as the tools of this World Summit. Although each of you controls a capable army, it will be difficult to remain confident that the decisions are carried out in an unbiased manner if one Zone’s army performs the dirty work. We hope for that role.”
Mrs. Hamilton’s eyes narrowed.
Perhaps, but is that really the tack you want to take? You only exist because the Zones allow it. And also-
But then Theodora Greyman spoke. “There’s no point in bandying about with words; everyone here is aware that your ‘strength’ is just leeched off of the Zones themselves. And despite your stated neutrality is valuable abstractly, this is the real world; no one believes you truly have no stake in the game. So it’s valuable to have some separation between powers, but don’t pretend that your existence doesn’t rest on our generosity. You are here to apply for a job, nothing more”
Even more surprising, while the man from the Order Sapientia grew pale, Theodora continued to speak. “And I think that we all know what the Donnyton representative’s real point was: you, sir, are not from an acknowledged Order. Can you defend your presence here?”
The man raised his chin and stood to stand next to the man from the Order Sapientia. “The issue I wish to bring to the World Summit’s attention is the status of my Order, the Order Argentum, as an official Order.”
Mrs. Hamilton tapped her lip.
Another attempt to set up an Order that was servile to those with power and money, huh… well, it’s not like I can’t understand the desire, but…
In another move that surprised Mrs. Hamilton, Theodora snorted. “You are asking this World Summit to give you the designation of an official Order, without the approval of the Order Ducis?”
“Ah, but the Order Ducis has missed the last several council of Orders,” The man said with a greasy smile. The other representatives from Orders nodded as he spoke. “As such, we have had no choice-”
“If you want to offend Randidly Ghosthound, be my guest,” Theodora spoke with a smile, but her tone chilled the room. “But this Summit will not be a part of it. Besides, without having the standing to attend the Summit, what gives you the privilege of bringing an issue before the Summit? Please leave.”
“I-” The representative from the Order Argentum began, but the air cooled even more considerably at his words. When he glanced around, he saw the frosty gazes of all 11 of the individuals who were not part of the Orders. And to have become the representative of these Zones, none of them, aside for perhaps Phirun, lacked personal power. The man squirmed visibly, barely capable of resisting the combined
“We won’t ask twice,” Theodora said simply.
Mrs. Hamilton didn’t miss the way that Theodora spoke so casually for the group. She also was aware that in this case, the will of the representatives had very quickly solidified behind Theodora.
Certainly, a capable woman,
Mrs. Hamilton thought with an admiring glance.
She graciously accepted this man’s request to be here and then used him to align the other representatives with her point of view? Quite aggressive, too.