Chapter 25

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.”

“A bodyguard?”

“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.

You’re happy.

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.


Chapter 24

I was awake since early in the morning, I tried to contact Malkia again, but I couldn’t find her in the astral planes, and I didn’t want to risk going to her and being spotted by someone, some of our enemies, and a few of her companions were able to see astral projections, and even if I could mask my appearance so they couldn’t recognize me, it was still a risk to let them know someone was there.

As Fatima and I had foreseen, there was a possibility that the group was going to be separated, and if that happened, we had agreed that Kimball would go after them while I stayed with the main group.  As soon as Malkia and a couple of soldiers left their separated way, a thick fog fell over the main group, it was unnatural and I knew that soon the effects would start to show.  For a moment I considered dissipating the fog, but I decided to leave it, and instead created air bubbles around my people to protect them.  I wanted them to show their cards, to incriminate themselves, so those who survived would witness their reason and be able to point their fingers at them.  I knew that Dendro would believe me and my daughters above anyone else, but I also knew things would be easier for them if there was someone else to back their words.

After a while we could hear the noise coming from the camp that signaled something bad, like screams and groans… but it lasted just for a few seconds and then a deep silence fell over the group.  Time was advancing slowly, and I was getting restless, I wanted it to go faster, but there was nothing I could do.  Just as I was losing my patience the fog started to lift, and soon after the enemy arrived.  My people were using illusions to stay hidden, and the enemy walked right past us without noticing us.  Once they were gone, I sent a telepathic message to my people to let them know they needed to wait, but that I needed them to attack at the first sign of danger.

Using my powers I started to move to where the two groups were now talking, and as I moved closer I started to hear voices.

“My men are behind the other group, they will have the other woman in their power, soon,” one of the Slavers was saying.

“The men that left with her are on my side, so you won’t have any trouble capturing her, still, I hope you remember to warn your men that, unlike this one, her sister is poisonous,” the Colonel said, and I could see that he was holding Greca by the neck.  When the Slaver moved closer, he pushed Greca into the Slaver’s arms.  By the way she was moving, I could tell that the fog had affected Greca, but despite being unable to move, I could tell she was talking, even if I couldn’t hear her words.

When I realized that the Slaver was “inspecting the merchandise”, I couldn’t stay away anymore and moved forward, making no effort to mask my movements, letting my steps be heard.  As soon as I did that, the rest of the Slavers pointed their weapons at me, but I used my powers to get a hold of them and took them out of their hands.

“Malkia? What are you doing here?” Colonel Gargan asked, but I kept walking instead of answering.

“Not my sister…” Greca said, her voice weak, but clear enough.  The Slaver was holding her with an arm around her waist, but her upper body was bent over his arm, as if she didn’t have the strength to stay upright.

“Pitonisa?” the Slaver asked, and I realized he was one of the brothers I had met during my visit to his clan years before.

“You!” the Colonel exclaimed as he finally recognized me.

“Greetings, Colonel, it’s been a while.  If I remember correctly the last time we met I was getting you out of a cage, where you were waiting for your death.  Is this how you pay for my help and the new chance at live I gave you?”

“This has nothing to do with you,” he defended himself.

“Those are my daughters you are trying to sell to this disgusting animal,” I said.

“Hey! That’s no way of talking about an old friend, is it?  So this young woman is your daughter, you did a great job, she is beautiful, not as beautiful as you of course.”

“If you know what’s good for you, you will let her go, right now,” I threatened him.

“I don’t think so,” he said, as he moved Greca, using his free arm to grab her by the neck and holding her up until she was upright, covering him like a shield.  “This girl is mine, I already paid for her, but I could give you a good price for her.”

“What will Dendro say when he finds out you are selling his soldiers to the Slavers?  Do you really believe he will make your daughter Antrax’s partner after this?”

The rest of the Slavers already had gotten over the surprise of having their weapons stolen, and they were positioning themselves around me.  I could tell that it would have been impossible for me to run away from them, but what they didn’t realize is that I wasn’t planning on running, and that I wasn’t alone.

“If you let my daughter go, I may let you leave, at the very least I will make your death a painless one,” the Slaver holding Greca started to laugh, the arm around her waist moved until he was holding her by the crotch, he pulled her closer to him, taunting me and making my blood boil with anger.

“I’m sorry Pitonisa, but I had no intention of letting this sweetness go, but you are welcome to join us if you want, I wouldn’t say no to a threesome with mother and daughter.”

“You have until the count of three to let her go, or you will be sorry,” I warned him.  “One…” before I could continue Gargan shoot a dart at me, it bounced on my psychic wall, but I knew he had been planning on drugging me with the same thing he had given Greca.

I decided I couldn’t keep trying to play nice, I needed to take Greca back, and I needed to take care of them.  I created a barrier around her using my powers, and I pushed the Slaver away from her at the same time.  I managed to get her away, but once she was free she was unable to move away, and as I was moving her closer to me, I felt vertigo and I lost my focus, dropping her.  I couldn’t concentrate enough to use my powers and I couldn’t even tell what was up or down, I had been using my double mind to get Greca free and I had been vulnerable to an attack, and my enemies had taken advantage of that.  I couldn’t keep my balance and fell to my knees, but I managed to get a psychic wall around me as I did.  Trying to find my attacker wasn’t easy, but since most of the Assassins, and Greca, were collapsed on the floor, and only my enemies were upright, I sent my men a warning, and then let a psychic wave that hit everyone around me at chest height, it was enough to break my attacker’s focus and rid me of the vertigo.

I studied the scene in front of me, I realized that the Slaver had been on his way to retrieve Greca before my attack, but Yoweri was by her side, ready to protect her.  I didn’t realize he had moved, but I was grateful for that.

“Colonel Gargan! I called, looking for him, and finding him standing next to one of the vehicles.  I realized he had a new weapon in his hands, even before he turned to face me, and I didn’t waste time taking it from him using my powers.

Before I could continue my attack, or at least get on my feet, the floor under me started to move, and in seconds I started to sink into it.  Instead of trying to fight it off, I used the chance to connect to it.  My hands closed around something, roots I realized and I connected to them, discovering an extensive net of roots under out feet.  I focused on them, and using all my strength I made them explode upright, wrapping them around the Slavers and the couple of Assassins that were working with Gargan.

My body kept sinking, and I realized that my tactic had done nothing to break my attacker’s focus.  I changed my focus to the ground and used my powers to free myself and move back up.  As soon as I got out and stood up, I noticed in the corner of my eye an enemy that had gotten out of the roots, and was running to me, but before he could reach me Ivan appeared between us and managed to hit him so hard that he knocked him out.

“Thanks,” I told Ivan.

“Just doing my job,” he said, before disappearing again.

Focusing on the roots again, I started dragging my enemies to where I was, at the same time I tightened my hold on them, trying to asphyxiate them, making them pass out.  At least most of them, I still had plans for Gargan.

“You think you already won?” Gargan asked.  “There is another group of Slavers that is going to come here as soon as they deal with your other daughter.  You won’t be able to win,” he threatened.

“You are done Gargan, your plan already failed, and soon your clan will see the kind of person you are, how you betrayed your own people.  Not only Dendro knows about this, even Emperor Trajan knows about your deal with the Slavers, and his people will be here to deal with you and your new friends.”

“Be reasonable Pitonisa,” the Slaver said, “this doesn’t have to end like this, I’m sure we can make a deal.”

“You put your disgusting hands on my daughter, there’s no way you will walk away from this with your life.  You are both going to die, you already sealed your destiny.”

“I will give the other one back, if you let me go,” he tried to negotiate.

“Malkia will be fine.  Do you really believe I wasn’t prepared for this?  The rest of you men should be already dead, or at least incapacitated.  I’m only waiting for Dendro to arrive so he can clean up this mess.  And he won’t be the only one to arrive soon, the Emperor must have sent his own group already, and they will make sure to find the rest of your clan and finish the job they started years ago, there won’t be any Slavers alive by the time they’re done.”

“Why are you doing this?  You are supposed to be an Amazon, or are you just a traitor as well?”

“I know who my allies are, you never were one of them.  Huang,” I called one of my men, “take a look at my daughter and the rest of the Assassins, make sure they are stable, I will deal with the traitors.”

While I was still talking some of the roots burst in flames, burning and weakening them enough for a couple of my prisoners to get free.  My men were already getting ready to stop them, but I could tell it wouldn’t be easy.  I had tried to keep things clean, but I could tell they wouldn’t give up so easily.  I had been away from the Empire far too long if I had forgotten that things were different there.  I focused my powers on the world around us.  I found the minds of my enemies and sent mental attacks to them, knocking them out one by one, until the only ones left were Gargan and the Slaver, I had something else prepared for them.

Once I was sure the others were no longer a threat, I created a stake that burst from the floor, going through both Gargan and the Slaver, and then new arms started to branch out of the original stake, creating a tree of pain.  Their screams were like music to my ears.  I knew what they had planned for my daughters, and I wanted them to pay for it with a slow and painful death.  Once I was done and was sure none of them was going to be able to get away or survive, I went to where Greca was.

“Mother?” she asked, her voice sounding stronger, even if her body was still not working.

“I’m here, Greca,” I said, as I used my hand to move her hair out of her face, and making sure she was really alright at the same time, using my powers to connect with her.

“Gargan… why?”

“Ivy promised him that his daughter was going to be Antrax’s partner, and when Dendro chose your sister instead, he got angry.  He knew that he couldn’t get rid of Malkia without you causing trouble, so he decided to get rid of both of you,” I could feel her anger lighting up like a fire, but then she got worried.


“Don’t worry about her, she will be fine.  Like I told them, I didn’t come alone.”

“Everyone seems to be fine,” Huang reported, he was standing a couple of steps away from us.  “Some of them are already starting to recover and will be able to move in a few minutes, the others will take longer.”

“Thanks Huang.”

“A group of Assassins is approaching fast,” Ivan said, “one of them is riding a motorcycle and will arrive in less than five minutes.”

“Then I guess is time to leave,” I helped Greca to get upright, leaving her seated against one of the vehicles.  “I need to go, I would love to stay, but I can’t.”

“Thanks for helping me.”

“You are a great warrior, Greca, and I’m proud of you.  I know you would have been able to escape them, but it wouldn’t have been an easy task, and I’m glad I could help you.  Tell Dendro that Gargan wasn’t working alone, and I’m not talking about the soldiers that went with Malkia, or the couple here that helped him.

Greca was looking at me as if she wasn’t sure if I was really there or if I was a mirage.  After making sure that everyone would be fine, we moved away from the group and hid behind an illusion once again.  Not much later we heard an engine moving closer, and then I watched as Antrax arrived, in less than five minutes, as Ivan had said.

“Malkia!” he screamed in desperation as he arrived and watched the scene in front of him.  I didn’t know how much Dendro had told him, and I wasn’t sure if he knew what had happened and who to blame.  I saw him approach Greca and talk to her, but I couldn’t heard them.  After a couple minutes he jumped back into his bike and went in the direction of Malkia.

“Do you want me to follow him?” Yoweri asked, after realizing I was staring at the direction Antrax had left.

“No, it’s alright.  As soon as the rest of the Assassins arrive, we will go, we can’t risk being found.”

A few minutes later we heard the rest of the Assassins approaching, and we started to back out.  I knew Greca was going to be fine, and Malkia as well, they were both in good hands.

Chapter 23

Kimball had been very patient while waiting for me, but he needed me to make a decision, and by looking at the clock I could tell that the tournament was about to start.

“Have you decided what to do?” Kimball asked, trying to act like he didn’t care, even if I knew how much he wanted to be there to watch our son fighting.

“Emily used to go every year, in fact, she is the reason there is a tournament at all.  I think it won’t look suspicious if I go,” I could see the relief in his face.

“Perfect, I will call for transportation and will send a message so they know we are going.  Ethan must already be there with his cousins.  The rest of the family should already be there, even my parents mentioned something about going,” Kimball said, as he worked sending messages and programming routes and security protocols.

They were waiting for us when we arrived, and I was escorted to the best place in the gym, from where I could watch everything that was going on.  Many fights were going to be taking place at the same time, and the spaces for each one were already delimited, each one for a different age category.  It wasn’t hard to spot Ethan among the participants, like it wasn’t hard to notice something wasn’t right.

“Is he using a suppressor?” I asked Kimball, knowing he would know what I was talking about.

“It was his idea, he said he didn’t need his powers to fight the other kids, and that it would help him not to accidentally use too much force.”

“I’m not saying it was a bad idea,” I said after thinking for a moment, “but without his powers he is at a disadvantage.  I’m not saying he isn’t capable, but some of them are mutants, and he could get hurt.”

“Ethan is pretty sure he won’t be at risk, the only ones who could be a problem are his cousins, and he will only be fighting one of them in that category,” before I could protest that his cousins could cause a lot of damage Kimball continued, “but Ethan knows him and his fighting style, and he knows how to avoid being injured.  And even if something happened, we can help him.”

“If you are sure he is going to be fine,” I said, not entirely convinced, I had a bad feeling.  I had seen the future, and even if I hadn’t wanted to see exactly what was going to happen during the fights, I knew that Ethan was going to survive without a scratch.

After a short ceremony to start the event, the kids started to fight.  The actual fighting wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, it looked nothing like the kind of fighting students did in the Empire.  There were many rules about the kind of hits and movements they could use, and they were using a point system to establish the winner of each fight.  The points were awarded if the kids hit certain areas in a specific way, that reduced the risk of injury a great deal.  After learning that I was surprised that Emily liked the tournament so much.

Despite the suppressor, Ethan had no problem winning his fights.  I had thought the event was going to take longer, and that it would be very late by the time the finals started, but by midday the finalist had been chosen, and they were given some time to rest before the final fight.  We were taken to another room where a buffet was laid for the participants and other guests.  Ethan came to talk to his father as soon as he saw us, but I moved to where the Principal was to ask a few more questions about what to expect.

A while later the start of the finals was announced.  Since it was the main event the fight were no longer going to be held at the same time, but consecutively, starting with the younger ones.  It was going to be a while before it was Ethan’s turn, so I didn’t pay much attention to the fights, I took the time to study Ethan’s opponent.  He had already defeated his cousin in one of the first battles, and the kid he was going to fight was far beneath his level.  He wasn’t bad, but he was a telepath, and even if Ethan was using a suppressor, the toxicity of his mind would stop his opponent from reading it, giving Ethan the advantage.

I was watching the fight previous to Ethan’s when the vision arrived.  I knew immediately that the bad feeling I had been so worried about had nothing to do with Ethan.  I recognized the people in the vision immediately, and the only comfort I had is that for what they were saying I still had time to act, but how much?

“What happened?” Kimball asked as soon as I got out of the vision.

“A vision, our daughters are in danger,” I explained, and I could see the change in his demeanor, in just a second he was ready to fight.  “The good news is that we still have time, we still can watch our son win this thing,” I said, trying to calm him down.

“Are you sure,” he asked, and I just nodded.

Even if I had told him we had time, I started reaching to my men, selecting those I wanted to go with me to save my daughters.  As I watched Ethan’s fight I started issuing orders, so everything would be ready for us to leave as soon as possible.  Beside me Kimball was doing the same, using all his gadgets to make plans, even as he watched his son fight.  No one was surprised to see that Ethan had won.

Kimball went to congratulate him for his victory, but I remained in my seat.  The tournament was going to end soon, and then we would be free to go.  From the beginning I had planned to leave before the celebration started, and since I had something much more important to take care of, the need to leave was only getting stronger.

As soon as the last fight ended, I got up to congratulate the winners and left the gym as soon as I could, not even looking back to see if my people was following me, but knowing that Kimball was going to be right behind me, probably with Ethan by his side.  And as I expected, both of them got inside the limo behind me.

“What happened?”  Ethan asked.

“Congratulation,” I said, moving closer to him to give him a hug.

“Thanks, but I know something is going on and I would like to know, if I can,” he added sheepishly.

“I had a vision, one of Dendro’s Colonels and Ivy are planning on selling your sisters as slaves.  Apparently Ivy had already promised him to make his daughter Antrax’s partner, and when they announced Malkia as his partner, he got angry.”

“We need to stop them,” Kimball said, his fury barely controlled.

“And we will.  Our transportation is being prepared.  I don’t know what excuse are we going to use, or if we even need one, but we need to start travelling as soon as possible.  I’m not sure how much time we have, but I want to move before they can be hurt.  I will take a walk in the fog as soon as we have a chance, to gather more information.”

“I also started making preparations as soon as you told me they were in danger.  All we might need should be already be prepared.  I think you should let William and Dante know you will be leaving, at least so they know you won’t be here.”

“I will send them a message with one of my guards.”

The rest of the day was pretty chaotic while we finished our preparations and organized the trip.  For a moment I thought that Ethan may ask to come with us, but he thought better and decided not to say anything, he didn’t even protest when we told him he needed to stay with his grandparents.  Kimball as usual, had started acting without asking too many questions, but I knew he would want more information, soon.  I trusted Dendro explicitly, but I had always had my doubts with Ivy, it seemed that the fact that our children were going to be a couple was more than she could stand.

Kimball waited until we were in the air to question me.

“What do you know?” he asked.

“I just know what they are planning to do.  It seems that the Colonel is going to ask for both of them to assist him during a mission, and uses it as a cover for their disappearance.  I guess that Greca got caught up in this just because she is Malkia’s sister, they want to get rid of both.  The vision was about something that was going to happen, so I know that we have time, I just don’t know how much.  Fatima will help me find more information,” I said, looking at where she was, “but it will have to wait until we both can be in the right place to go into the fog.”

“We will stop on the Island to get more people, you know that they are more familiar with the Empire and will be able to help better.  During our stop there you both can go into the fog, while we prepare for the last leg of the trip.  That will give us a better chance to be prepared for what is going to happen.”

“I feel guilty for leaving Ethan so soon, we didn’t even have a chance to celebrate his victory,” I confessed.

“Ethan understand, besides, this will help with the idea that you don’t care about him,” I tried to smile, agreeing with him.  “We need to stay positive.”

I was grateful that Kimball didn’t remind me that it was my fault that our daughters were in the Empire, away from us and in danger, but then I realized that having Ethan with us haven’t stopped him from being in mortal danger twice already.

As soon as we arrived at the Island Fatima and I went to a bedroom where we could get into the fog.  As soon as we got in, I went to where the paths I needed, those of my daughters, were.  Most of the time their paths ran parallel to each other, but they crossed each other a few times, their lives were connected.  It didn’t take long to find what we needed, but it made me realize we didn’t have as much time as I expected.  I was hoping that I could have reached Dendro and have him stop this from happening, but that wasn’t possible.  To be able to talk to him I needed to wait until I could reach his mind during his sleep, but by that time, they would be already out of his reach.  I still planned to talk to him, but I would need to move if I wanted to keep my daughter from being hurt.  By walking in the fog I had realized that my daughter were strong enough to get themselves out of the situation, but not before being hurt, and I didn’t want them to get hurt if I could avoid it.

Once we were sure we had covered all the possible scenarios, we got out of the fog and I went to Kimball to tell him all about it so we could plan for the best course of action.  He wanted a direct attack, but I was convinced we needed to act with caution, in a way the Colonel couldn’t deny what he had been planing.  Even if Kimball wanted something more drastic, he agreed that my plan was the best option if we wanted to stop him from trying again.

After some discussion, we decided to leave for the Empire and set camp near the spot where we knew the attack was taking place.  Neither Kimball nor I wanted to risk something delaying us and risking our mission.  After setting camp and going over the plan and the job everyone, Kimball decided we needed some rest.  I went with him to bed, but after a while I extended my conscience, looking for the two minds that I needed to contact.

I decided first to try my brother, since he would need more time to act.  Reaching him wasn’t going to be easy since the Palace had very strong defenses, but I knew that my brother was one of the few persons who could hear my calling, and he did.

Kaiserin?  Is that really you?’  Our minds were connected, and I felt enveloped by a feeling of familiarity.  Being away from the Empire it was easy to pretend that everything was fine, but feeling my brother reminded me that despite everything, the Empire had been my home for half my life.

Brother.  I’m sorry to bother you, but you must know that there is an enemy clan in your territory.  The Slavers are trying to come back.

Are you sure about that?  I thought I had taken care of them years ago.

I’m sure,‘ I shared with him part of my visions, giving him enough information to identify the place.

Are you alright? I had been worried about you.

Everything is just fine, I am fine.  I’m where I want to be, with whom I want to be.  I hope you know how much you mean to me, and that you understand why I had to leave.

I get it, the last time we talked explained your motivations, but I still would want you to trust me more.

It’s not a matter of trust.  I’m sorry, I would like to stay and chat, and if you want, we can talk some more tomorrow, but right now I have things to do.

Tomorrow.  I will be waiting for you.

No matter how much I would have preferred to stay with my brother, I still had to reach Dendro, and see if I could reach Malkia and warn her what was going on.  My first stop was with Dendro, and it wasn’t easy, but I finally could reach his dreams.

Dendro, it’s been a while,‘ I greeted him.

Are you a dream or real?‘ he asked.

I came to warn you that one of your men is going to betray you.  The group that left yesterday is not going to reach its destination, your Colonel is planning to sell them to your enemies, as slaves.  And you know who is part of that group.

Your daughters,‘ he said, immediately realizing the problem and the reason I was involved.

‘I will try to keep them safe, but they will need reinforcements, and it would be better if they were from your clan.’

‘Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to them,’ Dendro said, and I knew he meant that.

‘I would like to stay, but we both have work to do,’ I said, and I could tell he didn’t want our chat to end, but understood the need for action.  ‘Thanks for taking care of my daughters.  I know this is not your fault, but you must know that the blame belongs to someone very close to you.’

I left his mind before he had a chance to ask me any questions.  I knew that accusing Ivy directly wouldn’t be a good idea, it was enough to plant the seed of doubt.  There weren’t many people who would be interested in harming my daughters, and Dendro was smart enough to connect the dots.

I tried to contact Malkia, but after many failed attempts, I decided I was just wasting time, and that it would be better to leave and rest a little so I would be ready to fight.

Chapter 22

For years, a martial arts tournament had taken place in the local school, with the students participating in different categories depending on their age.  It was one of Emily’s favorite activities to see the little, and not so little students, fighting each other.  Once the local champion was selected, students from different countries in the Dominion were given a chance to challenge the champion from Capital City.  For some kids it was their chance to improve themselves, since victory came with the opportunity to attend Capital City’s school, the one where the children of the world leaders were studying.  For the local kids it was their chance to prove they were better.

Not everyone was eager to participate, since the winners attracted a lot of attention, and Emily’s attention wasn’t always a good thing, some preferred to stay under the radar, like Ethan, and stay away.  Some of Emily’s and Faakhir’s warriors had been recruited from the tournament, taken away from their families and becoming part of their army.  The next tournament was coming up, and even if I had considered stopping the practice, I had realized that for many kids it was their chance of getting ahead.  William had told me that there were other kinds of international competitions that he was interested in bringing back, but for the moment my focus was in the tournament.

I had a reunion scheduled with the school’s principal to discuss some changes in the format.  At first the meeting was going to be in my office, but then I had a feeling that it would be best to go to the school, so I changed locations.

“Welcome, it’s an honor to have you here in our humble institution,” the principal greeted me, but his words, even his attitude felt fake, forced.

“Thanks for accepting this reunion.  I know that this tournament is a local affair, but Emily loved it, and I understand she was the main sponsor for the event, and I’m afraid I don’t know much about it.”

“As you know, this institution puts a lot of importance in the martial arts.  Our students are the future of the Dominion, and they need to know how to defend themselves.  We teach different kinds of martial arts, some youngsters show preference of one style over another, for some is a cultural thing, others is just a matter of preference.  So the kids fight each other according to their age, until each category has a champion, and these champions are later challenged by kids all over the Dominion who want to show their abilities, but that’s something for later, right now you want to know about the local tournament.”

“Does all the students participate in this tournament?” I asked, even if I already knew the answer, I wanted to see his response.

“Not all of them, the coaches choose those that they consider won’t let our school’s name down.  Every student that participates in the fighting has to have a trainer or coach supporting him or her.”

“Where are the fights going to take place?  Do you have an especial place…?”

“In the gym.”

“If I remember correctly the gym suffered damage during my husband’s rescue, during the attack I mean.  I hope you already fixed the place and the students are under no risk.”

“Of course.  We worked on that as soon as we could, we have been using the gym for a while now.  I would have never allowed our students there if the place wasn’t safe.”  I knew he was telling the truth, but I needed to be in that gym, so I just stared at the principal, letting him know what I thought of his promises.  “If you want, we can go to the gym so you can see for yourself.”

“I would like that, thank you,” I agreed.

As we walked through the hallways, waves of whispers raised behind us.  Everyone we passed knew who I was.  Some of the students, the family of the refugees had dropped their hateful stares, their families had convinced them not to hate or fear me, but there were some students, even a few teachers that still didn’t know what to think about me.”

I could feel the animosity coming from the gym as soon as we got out of the building and started walking the path that would lead us to it.  I extended my mind to make sure that sensei Ueshiba was following us.  He had chosen to be part of my guard after becoming one of my refugees for refusing to be part of Faakhir’s guard.  He usually spent his time training my other guards, or helping Kimball with the security, but I needed him with me that day.

As soon as we opened the door, we heard the screaming match on the other side of the gym.  I gestured the Principal to stop, so we could hear what was going on before we got a chance to interrupt.

“That’s not fair!” Zuberi, Ethan’s cousin, was yelling.  “You know that I can beat all of them with my eyes closed and a hand tied behind my back.”

“My selection is final,” the coach said.  “This is not about what you want, but what I think is best for everyone.”

“And what’s best for everyone is for you to take revenge on us for your issues with my mother?” Ethan asked, his voice was controlled, but I could feel how unhappy he was with the situation.

“This has nothing to do with your mother,” the coach denied, but I could feel that wasn’t entirely true.

“Then with my father?  Because I know that this is not about us.  We are the best fighters you have, and we represent the best chance for this school to defeat everyone in the Dominion.  If you were really after what’s best for the school, you would choose us.”

“I don’t need people like you representing the school,” the coach said.  “We need people with integrity.”

“So your coaches choose people depending on their preferences and not the kids abilities?” I asked the Principal.  “Not exactly the way I would go about it, but if that’s how you do things…”

“I’m sure the coach has his reasons for his choices,” the Principal justified his coach.  “I trust his integrity and professionalism.”

“I’m sorry to tell you, but you are giving your trust to the wrong person.  That man doesn’t care about the school, he only cares about getting back at those kids, not for who they are, but because of who their parents are.”

Ethan was focused on the discussion in front of him, but I could feel his mind near mine, letting me know he knew I was there.  I didn’t know if he had let his cousins know of my presence by telepathy, or if they had noticed my arrival by themselves, but I could see them glancing my way.

Is there a reason you came to visit?‘ Ethan asked using telepathy.

How much do you want to be part of this tournament?‘ I asked, even as I knew what he was going to say.

I had never had the chance before.  I know I’m better than the rest of the students, but I would like to test myself against the rest of the Dominion, prove myself, show what I’m capable of.

If you are sure that’s what you want…

I’m sure mother, I want this chance.

“What do you expect me to do?” the Principal asked.  “I can’t go against my trainer.”

“Nor I expect you to,” I said.  “I don’t want you to change the rules for my son or his cousins.  I just want to understand those rules.  You said the kids need the support of a trainer or coach, you mean that guy?”

“Usually is the coach they are assigned to, but there are other martial artists that sometimes back them up.  There are a couple of masters that come to visit and give a few special classes, and if one of them take a liking to one of the kids, they can coach them during the tournament.  That is done mostly in the cases when the kids prefer a specific kind of fighting we are not that familiar with.  We try to have the kids working with someone with mastery over their chosen style of fighting.”

“So that coach is a master?  How many styles does he know?”

“I’m not sure, but he is one of the best trainers we have, and I trust him to know what he is doing.”

Our talk had finally caught the attention of a group of students, and Ethan’s cousins decided to stop pretending they didn’t know I was there.

“Aunt Kai!” Andile yelled from the other side of the gym.  “Visiting?”

“Something like that,” I said as I walked closer to them.  “What’s the problem here?”

“They don’t want to let us participate in the tournament,” Zuberi complained.  “Which is stupid, we are the best they have.”

“I don’t remember you competing before, isn’t this something that’s done every year?” I asked.

“We were the best at our last school, obviously, but Mzansi never sent students to compete in the tournament for fear of attracting the previous ruler’s attention, and as we were under your protection, the country was never forced to send anyone.  But now we don’t have to hide, things have changed,” Zuberi explained.

“Besides, we know that Mzansi is going to send some fighters to the Dominion tournament, and we can’t stay out of it,” Andile added.

“I don’t get why the interest, you are always having your own mini tournaments among heirs, you don’t need this.”

“It’s not the same,” Ethan said, “the fights we organize among ourselves don’t have any recognition, there’s no rules or supervision, and the winner is only recognized by those attending the fights, but most people don’t take those fights seriously.  If we win in the tournament, we have immediate recognition by everyone in the Dominion.”

“And can’t you represent Mzansi this year?”

“No!”  the coach interrupted.  “That is not how things work.  The people who will participate has already been selected.  The rest of the countries will have to choose someone from their own schools.”

“That’s not fair!” Zuberi complained again.  “Isn’t there something you can do?” he asked me.

“I don’t know, I’m only finding about the rules, and it seems that he is the one with the power to choose who he wants to compete,” I told the young ones, at the same time I extended my mind.  ‘Sensei?  I think it’s time for you to intervene.

“I think I would be able to help,” Sensei Ueshiba said.

“Sensei!” the coach exclaimed.  “What are you doing here?”

“Yes, what are you doing here?” Ethan asked, but the smile in his face as he looked at me, let me know he knew exactly what he was doing.

“Well, you know I’m part of your mother’s personal guard.”

“I thought you were my aunt’s personal guard’s trainer,” Zuberi said.

“That’s only part of my work,” Ueshiba said.  “I also work as bodyguard occasionally.  I asked to come with the Black Lady because I wanted to learn more about this tournament.  I’m surprised that you weren’t chosen to participate, and I’m deeply offended that my students didn’t make it.”

“I’m sorry, Sensei,” Ethan said, “it wasn’t our intention to make you look bad, this is out of our hands.”

“That’s bullshit,” the coach said, “I refuse to believe that someone as honorable as Sensei Ueshiba could be working for someone like her, or that he would agree to train a bunch of brats.  I asked to train under him several times and wasn’t accepted,” he accused, “he can’t have accepted you.”

“You were never accepted by me because you are nothing but a power hungry opportunist.  I can’t say I’m surprised that you found a job working in a position where you can bully and intimidate those weaker than you.  At least the Black Lady knows who her enemies really are, she doesn’t go after innocent people.  The truth is that she is a true honorable person, unlike you.”

“Wow, that would be a high compliment, if he had any honor in him.”

“You know perfectly what I think of you, I wouldn’t have agreed to work for you otherwise,” Sensei Ueshiba said, a smile making a brief apparition in his face.

“I recognize that the he is a Master of the martial arts, but he has no connection to the school, so he can’t come here and intervene,” the coach said, his voice full of resentment.

“But I could,” Ueshiba said.  “I don’t mind giving a few classes to the students, if you allow me,” he added, looking at me.

“As long as that doesn’t affect the training of my people, I have no problem with that, but I still don’t see the need for this, is not like they will die if they can’t be part of the tournament.”

We had already agreed that he would help the three of them to participate in the tournament, we knew the coach would do everything he could to stop them from participating, that’s why I needed his help to get them there.  I didn’t expect the Sensei to agree to teach the kids, but I was grateful to him.

“No, the kids will die if they can’t participate,” Andile said.

“I’m willing to do this, if the Principal can schedule a few classes, I can help with training, that way I can be with the three princes during the tournament.  Some of my other students will be attending the Dominion tournament representing my country, it would be interesting to have my students in more than one front.”

“That sounds cool,” Zuberi said.

“I hope that this doesn’t mean more training,” Andile added.

“If you will be representing me during the tournament, I have to make sure you do a good job.”

“Mr. Principal,” the coach said, he was trying to sound respectful, but was failing miserably, “you can’t allow this to happen.”

“I can’t let an opportunity like this pass, not everyday we have the chance to have someone like Master Ueshiba teaching our students.  Besides, if they really are as good as they say, I don’t see the problem in having them fight for us, and if they are not capable, then they will be eliminated anyway.”

“I don’t want them participating because I’m worried about the safety of the other students,” the coach explained, “especially with Ethan.  It’s true, they are strong, but they are dangerous too, they could injure the other kids.”

“I have perfect control,” Ethan said, “after the incident with my cousins I worked very hard to avoid it from happening again.  And I think the last few years have been enough to test the strength of my control, if I was as dangerous and reckless as you want to pretend, half the students would have suffered from it already.”

“I’m sure you will need to take care of the problems with your employees, but I still have a lot of work to do, and I would appreciate if you do this in your own time.  I would recommend that you just get rid of this man, he is not the kind of people I would like around the kids, especially not the ones that represent the future of the Dominion, but that’s something for you to work with.”

His mind broadcasted his intentions even before he started moving, still, I kept my movement going, giving him my back.  As soon as he moved my guards did too, Reka and Ueshiba were the only two who were inside the gym, and both of them intercepted my attacker, but they were not the only ones.  When I turned back, I found that both Andile and Zuberi had moved too, putting themselves between me and the coach.  The only one who was still in his place was Ethan, but by the focus on his eyes, I could tell he was the one responsible for the coach being suspended midair in front of my guards.

“It was a really stupid move to try and attack Kaiserin,” Reka said, moving closer to the coach and cuffing his hands behind his back.

“I’m sorry, but it seems we will be taking one of your employees.  If I remember correctly William’s rules, what he just did is an attack, and he will need to go to jail and face trial for that,” I said, as Reka started dragging the coach out of the gym.

“It’s ok, I understand,” the principal said, clearly shaken up by the situation.  “Kids, you can go, the rest of the class is canceled.  By tomorrow you will have a substitute teacher that will work on getting you ready for the tournament.”

A wave of whispers raised as the students started to discuss what was going on, but I didn’t care, I had gotten what I needed, and it had turned out better than expected.

Thanks.‘  Ethan reached me by telepathy as I walked outside the gym.

I understood the need of Ethan and his cousins of proving themselves in the tournament, even if I didn’t think it was a good idea, it was better if your enemies had no idea of what you were capable of.  By watching them fight, future enemies would know what to expect, and even if we were enjoying a moment of peace, it didn’t mean it would last, or that the kids would be safe when it ended.

“I’m sorry about what happened,” the principal said, as he used a handkerchief to dry his forehead.  “I never thought one of my employees were capable of something like that.”

“Of course you knew,” I said, “you knew exactly the kind of man he was.  From what I had seen in Ethan’s mind, and heard broadcasted by others, that man was always like that, with control issues and a pathological necessity to humiliate and bully those he considered his enemies.  For years he encouraged the attacks on my son, and offered his tormentors the chance to attack without consequences.  I originally thought he was targeting my son because of me, but it seems that his jealousy of my husband for getting the chance to train with Master Ueshiba was part of the problem.”

“As the Black Lady suggested, that man is shouldn’t be allowed near kids.  If you allow me, I can suggest a few names of people who would do a better job than him,” Ueshiba offered.

“I have a couple of people that come to give classes on occasion, I think they would like a full time offer, I’m sure they will be willing to fill the position.  Don’t worry, I have it under control.”

“I hope so,” I warned, “because if you don’t, I’m sure we would be able to find someone who does.  The time I had set aside for this meeting has ended, so if there is nothing urgent to discuss, I will be leaving.  I would like to see you again a couple of days before the tournament.  Emily liked to assist to these tournaments, I still don’t know if I will have to time to do it.”

“Don’t worry, I have everything under control,” the principal assured me.



I’m sorry for the lack of chapter last week, but I wasn’t happy with the chapter, and at the end I decided that it wasn’t working because it wasn’t complete, so I decided to combine what I had written for chapter 22 with chapter 21.  So if you read chapter 21 prior to feb 20, I ask you to go back and read it again, if you just read it, then go ahead and move to the next chapter.



“I think it’s time to make it official,” Dendro told his partner Ivy.  “I will announce Malkia as Antrax’s partner.”

“I don’t see why you have to do that, there are women born and raised in this clan that are a better match for our son.  Women we know that will be able to give him heirs, we don’t know what the procedure could have done to Malkia, for all we know she could be sterile.”

“You know that our son only has eyes for Malkia, and that’s important.  Maybe she wasn’t born here, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be Antrax’s partner, she has proven herself a fearsome warrior.  Besides, you know the lineage she comes from, and it’s far better than that of any other woman you could push our son to.  And in the eventuality that she is unable to have children, well, there is time, if they can’t have children, then we will find him another partner in a few years.”

“You are not seeing reason.  She is not her mother, your obsession with Kaiserin is clouding your judgement.”

“I think the one who’s getting blinded by her obsession is you, your hate for Kaiserin is affecting how you see Malkia, enough that you can’t see what’s best for your son.  It’s clear that he has been interested in her since the beginning, and if you think that the accident that almost cost Malkia her life was an accident, then you are truly blind.”  Dendro saw something passing through his partner’s face, it was just a second, but it told him enough.  “You did know how close they were getting and say nothing.  Were you expecting our son to kill her?”

“Don’t you dare blame me for that, you are the one who did nothing to keep them apart, you encouraged them.  The only thing that surprises me is that you didn’t try to take her for yourself once she became immune to the family venom.”

“I would never do that to our son, he really wants her, he has fought for that chance.  It’s clear they belong together.”

“Is that what’s stopping you?  That your son claimed her first?  I know you would prefer that cheap copy by your side than me.”

“Don’t start with that again, you are the one who made this relationship harder than it had to be.  None of us had a choice in this union, we did it for our clan and its future, but now, Antrax has a real chance to be happy, and I don’t understand why you want to force him into a miserable relationship like ours.  I have done my best to respect you and give you your place, and I’m sorry if that wasn’t enough for you, but you knew what the deal was.”

“You never gave me the same kind of respect you give that woman who abandoned her clan and betrayed the Empire.  She can’t do anything wrong in your eyes, and you are still looking out for her, you are even taking care of her daughters.”

“It’s the least I can do for her, because despite your delusions and jealousy, you can’t deny that my people and I wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for her.  I owe her a debt, and I won’t back out of it just because you can’t control yourself.  And I never planned or pushed for Antrax’s and Malkia’s relationship, that’s something that happened on its own.”

“I see that nothing I could say will change your mind, you are going to do whatever you want no matter how I feel or what I want,” Ivy knew that she didn’t stand a chance against Kaiserin’s daughters.  She had thought that Malkia’s poisoning was her chance to get rid of her, but she had survived, and even worse, thanks to the prisoner’s help, she was immune to Antrax’s venom, and that qualified her to be his partner.

“You are right about that, Antrax and Malkia will be official partners, and there’s nothing you can say to change my mind, and for your own good, and your son’s, I hope you can make your peace with that.  I will make the official announcement in a couple of hours during my meeting with the Generals.  It’s up to you if you want to stand by my side, or if you want to keep throwing your tantrum,” with those words, Dendro walked away, leaving a fuming Ivy behind.

Chapter 21

“Are you going to be there for the voting?” Ethan asked during breakfast.

It was one of those rare occasions when we could all sit together and have a long, quiet, breakfast together.  Ethan’s school was on vacations and Kimball had nothing important to run to, and I had cleared most of my day because the congress was voting for their new president that day.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea, if I’m there they will find a way to blame me if the vote doesn’t go their way.”

“Even if you’re not there, people will find a way to blame you if they don’t get their way,” Kimball said, and even if he was trying to make it sound like he was joking, I knew there was truth behind his words.

“Who’s your favorite to win?” Ethan asked, more interested in the process than me.

“The truth is that I have done my best to stay away from the process, I left everything to William and the representatives.  He told me that all the candidates met the requisites, and that none of them had ever sided with Emily’s or Faakhir’s ideals.”

“Do you want to go train for a while?” Kimball asked.  “I know most of your day is cleared, and if you go to your office or even if you just stay here, you will be thinking about what’s going on in the congress.”

“It will be the same if we go training,” I said.

“Let me assure you that I won’t give you a chance to think about anything but the fight in front of you.”

“If you are going to spar I want to go,” Ethan said, excited.  “I don’t have any plans until later.”

“I think that’s a good idea.”  I tried to train every day, but most of the time I had to limit my training to a psychic one, since I didn’t have time, and having the chance to test my physical abilities against Kimball was always a good choice.

Ethan kept surprising me, it was clear he had continued training both his mind and body.  It wasn’t as easy to fight him as before, and I had to force myself to pay attention to the fight to avoid him.  Kimball was right about me needing a distraction, and fighting both of them was a good one, for a couple of hours I didn’t have any chance to think of anything but the challenge they both presented.

When we finally cut the training, I decided to go to my office for a while, I was hoping I would have some news about the election, but they were still on it.

“Why are they taking so long?  They already had two months to think about who to choose, this should be a fairly quick process.”

“You know that they were supposed to give a last speech, then they were going to have an hour to vote, and then they have to count the, check them…”

“I know all that, but still, I want to know who I am going to have to face every time I need something from the representatives from now on.”

I still had to wait a couple more hours until William arrived at my door.  Since most people trusted William, unlike me, he had been in charge of most of the process, like vetting the candidates and supervising the counting of the votes.

“How was everything?” I asked, desperate for news.

“They elected their president, and let me tell you, I was really surprised to find who they had chosen.”

“If you are trying to drag things to build suspense, cut it, I have no patience left.  Who did they pick?”


“Dante?  Who is Dante?” I didn’t recognize the name immediately, it took me a moment to go through my memories and remember that candidate, one I never expected them to elect, one I thought they had put there just to fill a quota.

“I’m not sure how he ended being the President, but he is just as capable as any of the others,” William said.

“Are you sure everything was clean?” Kimball said, clearly he was also surprised by the turn of events.

“As far as I can tell everything was by the book, and I couldn’t find any signs of cheating.  I already gave the name to the members of the congress, and next week there will be a ceremony to make it official.  Since you are the one who is currently holding the title of president, Dante will be following you during this week so he can take over.”

“Great,” I said, sarcastically.

“Once his position becomes official, you won’t have to worry about that part of the government, you will have more time for your projects,” William said.

“That sound good, I hope I will be able to move forward with some of my projects.  There’s a lot to do before we can repair all the damage your sister and her husband caused.”

“I know, but at least we are moving fast with the trials, I can say with confidence that most of their collaborators, or at least the worst of them, are already paying for their crimes.  And one of the advantages of the crazy laws my sister pushed, is that I have been able to seize their money and properties, since anyone who commits crimes against the Dominion has to pay for it.  Getting all that goods and properties will be a great help to rebuild everything they destroyed, and will give us enough budget to help all the countries that were ransacked by them.”

“What I like the most is that all that money falls into my side, and I can use that for my projects.  It’s great that we already found the means necessary to increase the production of food, and we also found what we needed to help decrease waste.  Soon we will have enough to feed everyone in the Dominion.”

“It seems that everything is going smoothly,” William sounded satisfied.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, and we can’t forget the threat of new rebellions or guerrillas emerging.”

“It’s a sad reality that humans are never satisfied with what they have, and once things start to stabilize, people will start complaining and trying to get more than their fair share,” Kimball said.  “Especially with your ideas of distributing goods and services equally among the Dominion, soon the countries that are producing the most will start complaining that their productions is being taken to other countries.”

“Then we will have to work harder on making all countries self sufficient, but that’s a problem for another day.  For now I’m most interested in what’s going on right now.  Did you talk to Dante already?  When am I going to meet him?”

“He will be coming to your office tomorrow morning, we will make the official introduction and you will start working together in the transition of responsabilities,” William explained.  “Do you want me to be here to introduce him?”

“I don’t know.  What do you think?  Will he need you to be here?  I know that despite everything that has happened, most of them are still uncomfortable around me.”

“I think it will be best if I’m here, for security reasons.”

“Great, then I will see you tomorrow morning,” I said, dismissing him.

“See you tomorrow,” he said, but I could tell he wasn’t happy about it, he wanted to stay and talk some more, but even if I had accepted the need to be civil with each other, that didn’t mean that I wanted him to be around me more than necessary.

When William exited the room, Ivan walked inside, and I could tell he had been waiting outside.

“Can I talk to you for a moment?” he asked formally, and I knew he had something important to discuss.

“Of course, what’s going on?” I asked, exchanging a look with Kimball.

“Everything is calm right now, and I think this is a good time to ask for a few days off, I need to go back to my country to deal with some issues.”

Since the day the refugees from Aquarium had gotten out, I had been expecting Ivan to leave me.  I knew that the only reason he had agreed to work for the Dominion, and then with me, was because that was the only way to fulfill his responsibilities towards his people.  I had always known that his first loyalty was to his country, and that as soon as his honor allowed him, he would go back to his old position there.

“Does that means you will go back to your own position?  Are you going to leave us?”

“That was the plan, wasn’t it?  Help you take control of the Dominion, and once it was safe for Natalia, go back to work as chief of security.  But, if you allow me, I would like to keep my position here, with you, I just have to tie some loose ends and find a replacement there, so I can focus on this job full time.”

“You will always be welcome here with me, and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised to hear you want to stay.  I thought you were going to resign, and I felt relieved that was not the case.  It’s good to know that I have someone I can trust protecting my back,” I could feel the sincerity of his words, and I felt better, because I had been fearing his loyalty was divided, and that his weird attitude the last few days were because he was preparing to leave, it was good to know it was the contrary.  Ivan wanted to stay with me, and even if it was selfish of me, I was happy knowing one of the few men I still trusted was going to stay with me.  “Take as much time as you need, your position will be waiting for you when you come back.”

“Thank you.  When we started this alliance, I thought it would never be anything but a mutually beneficial relationship, I never expected that I would feel like this.  During the time I have known you, I have learned to trust you, respect you, I even admire you.  I’m still loyal to my country and my people, but I have found that I would serve a greater purpose by staying with you, I will do more good by staying by your side and making sure you can accomplish all your plans.”

“Thank you Ivan, I feel so much better knowing you are on my side, you are one of the few people I really trust.”

“It’s an honor,” Ivan said, leaving the room.

“Are you going to pretend to work for a while?  Or are you ready to go home?” Kimball asked once we were alone.  He knew how worried I had been about Ivan’s imminent departure.

“Pretending to work is a good description, I’m sure I won’t be able to focus on anything for the rest of the day.  Between knowing that Dante will be here tomorrow, and knowing that Ivan wants to stay with me, even if he has to go for a few days, I have a lot on my head.  It will be best to go back home and rest for a while, I have a feeling that tomorrow will be a long day and I need a clear mind to face it.”

“An afternoon of relaxation is what you need.  Let’s go,” Kimball said, putting his arm around my shoulders and lending me his strength and helping me.

I felt bad leaving the office so early, but the truth was that I haven’t been able to focus all day, and I wouldn’t be any good even if I stayed.  Everything was falling into place, and even if I should have been happy about it, I was feeling uneasy.  For so long I had lived in the middle of conflict, and now that things were calm, I couldn’t trust it, I was almost convinced that the next day was going to bring me nothing but trouble.

As soon as we arrived, Ethan came to greet us.

“Who was elected?” he asked when he saw us.

“You don’t know?” Kimball asked.  “Isn’t it public knowledge by now?  I thought you would be glued to the networks, waiting for any news about the election?”

“All they have said is that they already choose the new president, but not who,” Ethan complained.

“It was Dante,” I told him, “not the one we expected.”

“Is that a problem?  Why are you so worried?”

“I’m not worried he was chosen.  I don’t know why I’m worried, everything is going according to plan, even if Dante is an unknown character, that doesn’t mean he will be a problem.”

“Your mother is worried because she is losing control.  You know how much she worries about everything, and now she isn’t in charge, she thinks the other will cause trouble.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” Ethan said, “the system is designed to work by what the majority wants, and if this new person tries to do something to hurt your plans, you will have William to help you stop him.  Even if you don’t trust William, you can trust he will do what’s best for the Dominion.  He will never let them do anything that could harm us.”

“Your son sounds just like you,” I told Kimball, smiling.

“Well, he is my son, he is smart and has a good eye, you should listen to him, he knows what he is talking about,” Kimball said.

“Ok, then” I agreed, but none of them believed my words, and they were right, because I couldn’t trust the calm around us, I was still waiting for the storm to hit.

I arrived early to my office the next day.  I knew I didn’t have to, but it wasn’t the same as giving the title to William, I had never acted as judge, I had only taken the title of Queen, but it was different with the presidency, I had actually been involved with the Congress, it was a job a had done.

Kimball had offered to spend the day with me again, but I felt it was better if he stayed away, I had even asked the guards that usually stayed by my side if Kimball wasn’t with me to wait outside the door, the only one I had allowed inside was Yoweri, because most people didn’t even notice him, I was confident that they wouldn’t notice his presence.  It wasn’t as if I was going to use Yoweri to hurt William or Dante, but it made me feel better to know he had my back, I wanted them to feel safe, but I wanted to be safe as well.

Dante and William arrived mid morning, and for what I heard, they had already been together for a while.

“Good morning Kaiserin,” William greeted me.

“Good morning,” I greeted them both.

“Greetings,” Dante said, his tone reserved.

“Congratulations on getting elected as President,” I said as I studied Dante.  He was much older than me or William, even if he was still full of energy.  I could tell right away that his careless, even bored attitude was nothing but an act, I could see him studying the room, I even noticed his eyes stopped for a second on the corner were Yoweri was posted, before continuing through the room.  I could tell he was a capable man.  “I hope you understand the weight of the responsibility you acquired, as the first elected President in years, you have a tough job in front of you.”

“I know exactly what my position is, and I’m ready to do what’s required of me.”

“It’s good to know.  Since you were already part of the Congress you know what we have been working on and what’s our objective in the short term.  I have all the information of what I have been working on, I know that from now on it’s your job to decide the direction the Congress is going to take, but I would appreciate it if you continued working on some of my proposals.”

“Is this the point in which we start with veiled threats and hidden orders?”

“It’s not a threat,” William was quick to assure him, “is just a simple suggestion.  You know my sister made a lot of changes in the laws, everything she could do to give herself unlimited power, and put the rest of the Dominion at a disadvantage.  Some of those rules are already out, but there is still a lot of work to do to fix everything.”

“But even if we want to take the Dominion back to what it used to be, we understand we can’t turn time back, everything has changed, and we need to change accordingly,” I explained.  “In fact, there are a few things we need to preserve, at least for the time being.  Eventually we want to give independence back to the countries, give them the chance to leave the Dominion if that’s what they want, because I know not all the countries were part of the Dominion before Emily took control.”

“Are you really expecting me to believe you are willing to give them back their freedom?”

“We plan to do such a good job that no country will be willing to leave,” William explained.

“That’s why it’s not an option we are willing to give them right away, that option may not even present during your term as president, it may be something for your successor to consider.  So let’s not waste our time with the future, let’s focus on the present,” I said as I presented a few documents to Dante.  “These are the projects I have planned for the short term.  Right now we are using Emily’s property appropriation
law is financing the projects.”

“That’s one of the laws we want to preserve, at least until the trials for treason are finished, we need to take back the money my sister’s followers stole from the Dominion,” William interrupted.

“I guess you already know that budgets need to be approved by congress,” Dante said, taking the documents, but not bothering to check them.  “You are supposed to give us an estimation of how much you need to spend, and we decide if the expenses are right, and if we agree with them we give you the money.”

“Well, this year’s budget was already approved by me,” I said.  “I made an estimation taking into the account the money we will acquire from the trials, thinking we will be able to recover most of it.  If there is a difference between my calculations and reality, we will deal with that when the time arrives.”

“I’m not surprised you already have this year under control, I only hope you understand that next year we will be following protocol.”

“Of course,” I agreed, realizing that Dante was only looking for an excuse to fight, his attitude was defensive, but his demeanor combative.  “I guess the next step should be to review the initiatives on the congress’ table, and see how the work is advancing.”

“I’m up to date in all the discussion taking place in both chambers,” Dante said.  “But I guess we should review them, just to follow protocol.”

“You have no intention of making this easy, do you?  This would be so much easier if you just adjusted your attitude,” I warned.

“We have to work together for the next three years, it would be best if we start with a cordial relationship from the beginning,” William said.  “I know things are complicated, but we need to work together to fix them, not make them worse.  If Kaiserin and I can leave our differences on the side and work together, you can do the same.”

“It’s clear that you have been working together, there is no reason you can’t be working together.”

“That’s something we don’t need to discuss right now,” I said before William could bring our problem into the open.  “What’s important right now is that we need to be professionals.  If you are planning on making things difficult, then don’t expect me to bend over to make them easy, this would only result in a battle where no one will win, and the biggest losers will be the citizens of the Dominion.  I think that is better if you take the documents I gave you and study them.  We can meet again tomorrow and discuss them.  It’s clear we won’t get anywhere today.”

“It sounds like a good idea,” William said, “and if you need my help, just call me, I’m willing to do anything to make things easier for you.”

Dante just nodded his agreement, gathered his things and left the office.  I already suspected things wouldn’t be easy, but I didn’t feel better having my suspicions confirmed, it was one of the few times I had wanted to be wrong.

“Dante will cause trouble,” I told William, who for some reason, was still in my office.

“It’s just the frist day, he is being careful, that doesn’t mean he will be a problem, let’s trust everything will be fine.”

“I hope so, there’s a lot of work to be done, and it will be very hard if we will have to fight every step of the way.”

“I think that once he starts working with us he will realize we are not the enemy, and we would be able to dig the Dominion out of the hole my sister left it in.”

“I hope so.  Thanks for bringing him over, I’m sure you have a lot of work to do, I’ll let you go back to it,” I dismissed him, trying to be tactful about it.

“You know that if you need me, I will be here.  If you keep having trouble with Dante and need a referee, you can call me, I’ll be here,” William offered before leaving.

That first reunion had been difficult, but the situation didn’t improve during the following meetings while we worked on the transition.  Dante suspected every one of my decisions, looked for hidden motives and traps in everything I did.  It didn’t take me more than a couple of days to realize that I wouldn’t change his mind with words, so I stopped trying to sway his way of thinking.  I trusted that eventually we would realize we didn’t have to be enemies, but even if he didn’t, I had no problem with him, as long as he did his work and looked out for the good of the Dominion.

I knew I couldn’t control Dante, I needed to let him do what he felt was necessary.  I knew that I couldn’t be in control of the Dominion forever, and it was important to let the people start making their own decisions, to make their own mistakes.  I knew that I couldn’t help but try to minimize his errors and keep them moving forward, but at the end of the day, my time at the front of the Dominion was numbered.  In three years the congress would be electing a different president, and it may not be Dante.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be gone by then, or if things would work well enough for me to give up the prime minister position before that, but I still had time before making that decision.

At the end of the week we had a celebration where Dante officially took possession of his new position, William and I were there to confirm him, and promise that we would work together for the Dominion’s best interest.  I knew that it was a promise that needed to be done, but I was aware that even as we said the words, Dante had no intention of collaborating with us, he had his own agenda to fulfil.