We have been walking for just a few minutes when I noticed that my men were getting nervous, stopping and looking around us, and then I noticed something they haven’t, someone was approaching the group, but it wasn’t a person, it was an astral projection. Not everyone in my group could see an astral projection, so I wasn’t sure if that was the source of their uneasiness, or if there was something else, maybe we were close to the Slavers or in the path of the Imperialists. But that wasn’t important at the moment, Malkia was risking a lot by looking for me in an astral form, so I couldn’t let her alone, I needed to go see her and talk to her.
“Everything is ok,” I assured them. “Ivan, take the rest of the men and start preparing the vehicles for our departure, I’ll be with you in a minute.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to stay behind, alone,” Ivan said.
“I’ll stay with her,” Yoweri offered.
“It’s not necessary,” I started to protest, but Thalia noticed Malkia at that moment.
“We are being watched,” she said, worried.
“That’s my daughter, I just need to go into the astral planes for a moment to talk to her,” I noticed right away they were not happy with my plan. “Ok, if you don’t want me to be alone, Yoweri can stay behind, but the rest of you need to go. Start the preparations, this won’t take long.”
They weren’t happy, but they finally followed my orders and moved away. I could see Malkia’s projection, and I could tell she was watching the group getting away with curiosity. I didn’t want to make her wait, so I sat with my back to one of the trees, and went into the astral planes, knowing Yoweri would guard my body. Malkia was watching my body with curiosity, and I could tell she was watching Yoweri as well, he wasn’t the kind of person you could easily find in the Empire, and that was making her curios.
‘Greeting, my daughter. I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you in time about the attack, but I couldn’t find you in the astral planes,‘ I told her once I walked into the material plane. ‘Would you like to go into higher planes to talk?‘ The material plane was the harder place to stay, it required more focus and energy, so it was better for both of us to move up.
‘Of course, it would be easier to talk there,‘ Malkia accepted, still staring at my body. ‘I always thought that we looked the same here because you chose to represent yourself that way. To be honest, for a long time I even thought you were just a fragment of my imagination, or maybe an hallucination or something that only lived in the astral planes.‘
‘How are you my child? Did the help arrive on time?‘ I asked, ignoring her words.
‘Yes, I don’t know who you sent, but someone arrived before the Slavers did, and then Antrax arrived a little later. How did you know I was in danger?‘
‘I know a lot of things, and I always try to stay up to date in what is going on in here. I knew the Slavers were planning to attack, and knowing someone in your clan was going to help them, I decided to lend a hand. I couldn’t let them take you away and make you a slave.‘
‘Thanks,‘ I could feel the emotion behind her words, and I could tell how difficult the situation was for her. Maybe it had been easier for her to think of me as an illusion, seeing my real body seemed to affect her a lot. ‘Why are you going? Why don’t you come with me?‘
‘I can’t do that, for so many reasons. This is not the place for me, and even if I would love to stay with you, I can’t, and I know you won’t come with me, your place is here,‘ I could see she was trying to fight my words, but she couldn’t, she would never leave Antrax.
‘I don’t want you to leave,‘ she finally said.
‘If I could, I would stay. But if you even need me again, I will be here.‘
‘I have needed you before, and this is the first time I see you.‘
‘You know that’s not true, I have been there for you before, I’ve been your guide in the astral planes, and if I wasn’t there for you on other occasions, it’s because I knew you didn’t need me. Even now, I know you would eventually been able to escape the Slavers, but not before they had a chance to hurt you. They have mastered the art of breaking people, and even if you would have healed eventually, that’s not an experience I wanted you to have, and if I had even a small chance of helping, then I had to. You are a great warrior, and you didn’t need to live through that to prove it.‘
‘I’ll be there for you any time you need me, but right now, you need to go back to your body, the day it’s not over yet, and you still have a lot of work to do. Just be careful, Gargan wasn’t the only one working with the Slavers, you are still in danger.‘
‘I’ll be careful, they won’t take me off guard again. I would like to see you again, and not because I’m in danger.‘
‘I’ll try to look for you again, I won’t let time pass again. Maybe now that you have see with your own eyes that I’m real, we can have a talk, but I have to warn you there are things I can’t discuss, for you own safety.‘
‘Then we will talk later, mother,‘ with those words, Malkia’s projection started to fade.
As soon as I went back to my body I noticed something was wrong, Yoweri was on guard, and as soon as I felt the mind brushing mine, I understood why he was so tense.
“Don’t worry Yoweri, I know the group walking our way, and they are not a danger to us, I just need to talk to a couple of them, that’s all.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, I think we should go, the group is too big, and I’m not sure the two of us will be able to stop them if they decide to fight.”
“It will be ok, they won’t hurt me, trust me.”
Not long after I felt the group moving around us, and then a couple of warriors walked out to the open.
“Identify yourself,” one of them ordered.
“Shouldn’t you be looking for the Slavers?” I asked.
“Kaiserin?” Ratri asked.
“We were told you were behind this,” Echrad said, I didn’t hear her giving any order, but I felt the rest of her group moving away, “but I never thought I would find you here. It’s been so long that I was convinced you were dead, that’s the only explanation I could think of for why you have stayed away, until Geb convinced me that you had your reasons for not coming back. Trajan said something similar.”
“I won’t give you more excuses, I know that what I did was wrong, and that I disappointed you.”
“Trajan said that you told him that the Slavers were back. Rumor is you warned him about them the first time too,” Echrad said.
“When I met them, I found out they were planning on attacking the Empire, and I knew that I had to warn you. This time it was even more important for me to stop them. I know that I have no right to ask anything of you, but I trusted Dendro with something very important to me, and now I’m asking you to stop the Slavers and to make them pay for what they tried to do today. I’m sure that once you go to the Assassins you will know what I’m talking about, and that you will help me protect the secret. Despite everything that has happened, I still trust you, and I hope you still respect me enough to grant me this favor.”
“I still owe you,” Echrad said, ” and whatever you need, you can trust me to help you. I know you have your reasons for doing what you did, and if the rumors are true, then I don’t blame you for acting this way.”
“That means a lot to me.”
“And you mean a lot to us,” Ratri said, “it hurt a lot when you left, but I can’t be mad at you anymore.”
“I would like to stay and talk so more, explain to you what really happened and why I did what I did, but I have a lot of work to do, and you still need to go and clean up Gargan’s mess.”
“Gargan was the one who contacted the Slavers?” Echrad asked.
“That’s right, but he wasn’t acting alone, in fact, I’m not sure he was the first or the only to talk to the Slavers.”
“I don’t mean to offend you,” Ratri said, “but I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be alone, the Slavers could be near here.”
“We could take you to where you need to go,” Echrad said, “you won’t get far with only one bodyguard, I promise we won’t try anything against you.”
“She is good,” Yoweri said just as Ratri questioned about the bodyguard.
“Of course she is,” I said, and I watched Ratri’s face as she stared at Yoweri as if she was seeing him for the first time, which was very likely, “they are very strong warriors. And you don’t have to worry, the rest of my men are already waiting for us, I will be fine.”
“Kaiserin, please take care. I hope we can see each other again soon, and that we have a chance to talk more,” Ratri said.
“I hope so too. Now go, you still have a mission to finish.”
Yoweri went one way, they went the other. I know that they would face my daughters soon, and that they would be able to recognize them, but I trusted they would help me keep the secret, or that at least they wouldn’t share the information with someone who I wouldn’t trust with it. I knew that they, as many others, were still trying to understand the reason behind my escape, and that they wanted me back, and after being back in the Empire, fighting, I wanted to go back too, but it wasn’t possible, at least not yet, I still had a lot to do in the Dominion.
We arrived to where the group had set camp and were waiting with the vehicles, and found that Kimball was already back, talking to Ivan, so I went to them.
“It seems that the Slavers main camp is near, and I saw a group of Imperialists moving that way,” Kimball said. “Is Greca alright?” I just nodded. “Ok, then I think our job is done, everything went according to plan. Malkia is also fine, by the way, we took care of the Slavers that were going for her, and neutralized the traitors with her, she is safe.”
“I know, I talked to her,” I said, “it seems that as soon as she found out I was here, she went looking for me in astral form. I think they are not very happy with our help, but I prefer them to think we don’t trust them to defend themselves than falling in the hands of the Slavers, even for a couple of days.”
“You did a good job,” Kimball said, “they will be fine.”
“I kind of offered Malkia the chance to come with me, because I could feel she wanted to get to know me better, but she preferred to stay behind, I think that’s mostly because of Antrax.”
“At least he feels the same way about her,” Kimball said, “the last time I was here I could tell that what he felt for her was more than lust, and I just saw the kid desperate to find Malkia, and make sure she was ok.”
“A big group of soldiers is coming this way,” Fatima announced, “I think they are looking for more Slavers, but if we don’t move, they will find us.”
“I think it’s time to leave, but we can’t leave the Empire yet, I have a last stop to make before we can go back to the Dominion.”
No one, not even Kimball questioned my orders, and a few hours later we were in the limits of the Palace’s territory. I had promised Trajan that I would go back to talk to him, and I planned to keep my promise. Finding him again was easy, because he was also looking for me.
‘Sister, how are you?‘ he asked, as our minds found each other.
‘Better, now that I know the Slavers are being taken care of.‘
‘Thanks for letting us know we had a little problem, I didn’t think they would come back to cause trouble. Your warning was a big help, again. When are you coming back? You could help us a lot here.‘
‘I can’t come back, not yet anyway. I found my place in another land.‘
‘I have my freedom and I have my family. I’m as good as I could be. I won’t tell you that everything is perfect or that I don’t have problems once in a while, but there nothing that I can’t handle, and besides those small problems, everything is fine. I’m in a place where I can do what I want, and I’m safe and protected. Everything is fine brother. How are you? I know the job of Emperor is not an easy one.‘
‘It’s not, but I think I’m doing a good job. I miss you, and I get it if your place is not here with us, but I would like to see you again.‘
‘I’m afraid this is the best I can offer you. You know I cannot go to the Palace, it’s too big of a risk.‘
Once we changed the subject to something different than the fact that I had left and had no intention of going back, the chat got much easier and felt better. Like I had done on other occasions, I talked about my life and what I had been doing, being careful not to give him too many clues as to where I was or what I was up to.
As usual, talking to people from my past was a difficult experience, but at the same time something that I enjoyed. Despite the circumstances and what could have been, I loved my brother and I missed him. I missed what could have been if it wasn’t for my clairvoyance and the way my clan treated that power. Things would have been very different if I had been able to stay and be the Empress, but at the same time I knew everything happened for a reason. If I hadn’t been forced to leave my clan, I wouldn’t have met Kimball, I wouldn’t have Greca or Ethan, maybe I would have lost Malkia too. They were everything to me, and I would change them for anything.
I was exhausted by the time we arrived at the Dominion, but Ethan was there to greet me, and he surrounded me with a feeling of peace and calmness. I needed that, so I didn’t bother in getting angry at him for using his powers on me, I just enjoyed the peacefulness of the feeling.
“How are my sisters?” he asked, and I could feel genuine concern. Sometimes it was easy to forget that despite the fact that he had never met them, and that I could sometimes feel some rivalry when he talked about his sisters, they were siblings and shared a connection, something difficult to explain, but that existed nevertheless.
“Fine, both of them. We managed to arrive before something happened to them,” I said.
“They were only hurt in their pride, if they are anything like your mother, they will be furious they had to be rescued.”
“I’m glad they didn’t get any permanent damage, their ego will heal just fine. Dante and William were asking about you, it seems none of them were happy that you left without talking to them first,” Ethan said, and that explained why he thought he needed to use his powers, he didn’t want me to get angry.
“I don’t have to talk to them before leaving,” I complained.
“It’s not a bad idea to talk to them. You don’t have to explain where you were, or what you were doing, just tell them you had some personal issues to take care of and that you’re back.”
“If you are so worried about them, maybe you could go and talk to them,” I told Kimball, and putting my arm around Ethan’s shoulders, I let him take me back to the Palace and my suite. The trip had drained me, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally too. Going back was always difficult, but Ethan was a good reminder of why I had done what I had done, and why I had taken the path I had chosen. He was a good reminder that there were things worth fighting for.