Chapter 29

We had already had a couple of meetings, which had allowed us to get to work on new and different problems around the Dominion.  It was easy to see that Emily and Faakhir had managed to rule the Dominion without these meetings, only because she didn’t care about the people in the Dominion.  With such a vast population, with so many different needs, it was impossible for a single person to take care of everything, you needed to delegate and even if I had done my best, and I had managed to fulfill the basic needs of the population, I had realized that every region and every country had different needs that I had dismissed.  Thanks to the meetings we had managed to identify some problems that I didn’t realize existed, also, we had better communication, and with that, and the ability to delegate, we had managed to attack those problems.

At the beginning, it was hard to give up control, but soon I realized that it was not only a good idea, but a necessity.  Only time would say if I had done the right thing, but at the moment it looked that way.  My work was to set goals, and organize the resources the Dominion had in order to allow them to meet those goals.  I also had to make sure they were doing the job they were supposed to do.  I couldn’t help but think that some of them were going to take advantage of the situation for their own benefit.

Kimball had been with me in some of the meetings, but he stayed out of the way, so the others wouldn’t be able to see him.  So far I haven’t had a reason to worry.  Of course, everyone was after what was best for their countries, and themselves, but most were willing to work with the others to make it possible, very few still held to the idea that one had to suffer so others could get on top.

“As always, I thank you for being at this meeting,” I greeted the leaders once all the virtual projections were in place.  “During our meeting we will address the plans we were discussing the last meeting to see what you think about them.  I think you and your people had enough time to go over them and find anything that you think requires more work.”

We spent the next couple of hours going over the plans and fine tuning them, as we had planned.  Even if there were a few disagreements, we were able to fix them without much trouble.

“I think that’s everything we needed to go over.  Is there anything else you would wish to discuss?”

“If you allow me, I would like to put an important issue on the table.  We are approaching President Dante’s midterm.  I don’t know if you realize it, but this is usually the time when we choose a new Prime Minister,” one of the presidents said.  A wave of danger surrounded me, and I realized I needed to be very careful with how I proceeded.

“I don’t remember anything about agreeing to have Prime Minister elections, that’s something I decided to leave until later.”

“During the last meetings you talked about how you want to return to how things used to be, restore the status quo, and this is part of it, for our political system is very important to be able to alternate our rulers,” another leader said.  The new speaker was from a different region, and that only left a couple of possibilities, either people agreed it was time to get rid of me, or a few had gotten together and decided to move me out of the way so they could follow their own interests.

“So, you are trying to tell me you are already tired of me and want me gone?” I said, trying for a joking tone, but being totally sincere in my question.

A few leaders started to agree with me, while others denied that was true, but no matter what they thought, it was clear that the seed had been planted, and more people would start thinking about it.

Once the situation calmed down a little bit, another leader spoke up.  “I think it’s important for the Dominion’s progress to decide if we are going to honor old customs or if we are going to keep working under this tyranny…”

“Are you calling my rule a tyranny?  I suppose that depends on what your definition of tyranny is.  Anyway, I promised that I was working toward moving things to how they used to be, but I also said that I wouldn’t move forward until I had solved the Dominion’s main problems.  So, I guess it’s valid to ask, do you think we have already reached that point?  Has the Dominion already reached its equilibrium?  I believe those are questions we have to ask before making a decision, and that is something we all have to work together to do.  Right now I don’t think there’s enough time to discuss something like this, so I propose that we move this issue for the next meeting, once we all had the chance to think about it, so we are all on the same wavelength.”

“And how can we be sure that you’re not staling to avoid discussing this?” asked the President that had first raised the issue.

“For the simple reason that I don’t need to do that, if I really wanted to stop this, I could just veto it, I don’t need to play games or hide what I want to do.  I will put this issue in the list of subject for our next meeting.”

Once the meeting ended, Kimball moved from the corner where he hid from the cameras.  I was still thinking about what had happened.  My first thought had been that there was no way I could allow something like that to happen, but then I had realized that my time had passed, my goals had been reached, and maybe it was time for me to leave my place in the Dominion and allow others to continue my work.  Maybe it was time for me to go back to Aquarium, or even to the Empire and reclaim my place as head of my Clan, or maybe to become my brother’s right hand.

“Did you suspect that was going to happen?” Kimball asked, worried about me.

“To be truthful, no, I didn’t, but even if I had a bad feeling about it at the beginning, I’m starting to think it may not be a bad idea.  Maybe my part in this is over, and it’s time for me to move on.  Of course we need to think about the consequences in case my successor is not the right person.  Maybe we will need to get William involved so he can interview the candidates, that way we can make sure that whomever they choose won’t damage the Dominion’s progress.”

“You are taking this much better than I expected.  I know how much this means to you, and how much you had to sacrifice to reach this moment, I don’t think it’s fair that they get to decide that you can’t be here anymore.”

“I’m not sure what to think yet, I may change my mind tomorrow, but for now, all I can do is think about my options.”

“Maybe going into the fog would help you make a decision.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

The fog didn’t help much to clear my future, there were many versions of the future where I remained as head of the Dominion, some where I was forced to leave, and a few in which we were unable to control the outcome and the person they put in my place ended up being a bad election, one that undid all the work I had done and drove the Dominion back to its worst version.

By the time the new meeting arrived, I had no idea what was going to happen, but what I was sure of, was that I needed to accept their decision, even if I didn’t like it.

“Greetings.  As I promised during our last meeting, today our first order of the day will be discussing the possibility of having an election for Prime Minister.  I think that it would be best if the people that suggested it in the first place defend it, and whomever wants can add if they are in favor or against the idea before voting on it.  Just let me remind you that in case you end up in a tie, I will be the one deciding what is going to happen.”

For a while, many leaders moved forward to give their opinion, and soon I realized that most were in favor of getting rid of me.  I didn’t need to wait to know what way the vote would go.  When the time arrived, it wasn’t a surprise to see that they had decided to vote whether they would have a new election or not.  I couldn’t help but feel bad about it, that decision meant that they were going to decide if I was going to go, and end a time of my life that had cost me a lot, and it wasn’t because I wanted it to end, but because other people wanted me to go.

“As I promised, I will respect your vote and any decision you choose to make.  I asked my people to adapt the system so you could have an anonymous vote, because, as I understand, that could encourage people to really go with the decision they want and not fear for repercussions, of course, there is also the option of an open vote, in case you don’t trust the system.”

“How can we be sure that you won’t use your tecnopaths to see how we voted, even with the system?”  one of the Queens asked.

“That’s a matter of trust, you can either believe me or not.  There is not much I could do or say if you don’t trust me or my people.”

“I think an open vote it’s better,” someone else suggested.  “It’s as easy as to have those in favor of electing a new Prime Minister raising their hands, those against it don’t have to do anything.”

“That’s a good suggestion, if everyone agrees…” before I finished talking, many leaders started raising their hands, more than I originally expected.  It wasn’t even necessary to count them to realize that they were the majority, but still I did it, for protocol.  One by one I called the names of those in favor, while Kimball helped, making the count appear next to my virtual image on their side.  At the end more than 80% of the leaders voted in favor, leaving no doubt about their decision.

“Now what?” an impatient voice asked.

“Now, you have to choose the candidates.  Just a warning before you move on to that.  Even if I believe that the time for Emily’s and Faakhir’s ideals are behind us, William asked, and I agree, to interview the candidates you choose, so he can make sure there is no relationship with his aunt and uncle, or any other problematic ideology that could represent a danger to the Dominion.”

“And how can we be sure that you won’t use that as an excuse to try and control the candidates, or to remove those who could be problematic to your way of thinking.”

“Again, that is a trust issue.  If you believe that William doesn’t have the Dominion’s best interest at heart, or like many conspiracy theorists you believe that he is under some sort of mind control or some bullshit like that, then there is not much that I can do to change your minds.  You have to trust in your King, if you don’t, then what can I do?”

“That really sounds great, but there is not much that can assure us that we can really trust you, or the King.  Still, we don’t really have a choice, and the only thing we can do is to give you the benefit of the doubt and go ahead with the election,” one of the Presidents said.  “I think that the next step is to choose possible candidates and work on getting them approved, that way they can start working on a proposal for their government, and give us a chance to get to know then and study who could be the better choice.”

As they started talking about it, I decided to stay quiet, just watching them talk, and in some cases fight over how to proceed.  The process was way more chaotic than I expected, but there was not much I could do, any intervention on my part would be interpreted as a try to control them or the proceedings.

I couldn’t help but look at Kimball once in a while, he was also watching the discussion.  I was still not sure how to feel about everything.  It hurt to see how easily they discarded me after everything I had done for them, but at the same time I knew that it was a part of my life that sooner or later had to end, but that wasn’t exactly how I expected to leave, without it being my decision.  I knew that I could fight them and stay in power, but that would only hurt me and my credibility, and the Dominion.

William arrived after a while, and I guessed that Kimball had sent him a message.  We had already talked about the possibility having new elections and he was most likely there to set the game rules, the same way he had done so for the Congress when they elected their President.  When I saw him there, I decided to interrupt the leaders.

“I think that is enough time to discuss your options, but before you move forward, William wants to talk to you.”

“Greetings, leaders of the Dominion,” William said, taking my place so the rest of the leaders could see him.  “I have been told that you have decided it’s time to elect a new Prime Minister.  I have to admit the decision surprises me, since Kaiserin has been doing such a good job so far, but I have to admit this is a necessary step if we want to keep moving forward.  Still, there are a few concerns that we have to address and that come from the time my sister used to rule the Dominion, and because of that, I would like to interview the candidates you have chosen,” there were a few complaints and for a moment William was unable to continue talking.

“Silence!” Kgosi demanded in a voice so full of authority, causing a deep silence to fall.  “Allow me to remind all of you protesting, that the King or Queen of the Dominion, in their capacity of Supreme Judge used to interview and had the final say in who could become President or Prime Minister.  What William is asking for right now is not that different to what used to happen, and after all we have been through, I don’t see any problem in making sure that our candidates haven’t been corrupted by the old regime.”

“That’s right,” William agreed, “the fact that I’m interviewing the candidates and not the person elected is just a way to save one step, that way we can take out of the race those that doesn’t deserve to be there.  You know the kind of power my family has, we can force people to talk only the truth in our presence, because of that you shouldn’t be so surprised that I am the right person to interview the candidates.  Besides, you didn’t let me finish, I won’t be the only one there, President Dante will be with me, to make sure that the right questions are being asked and that the candidates are giving the right answers.  This is all for the good of the Dominion.”

“Then, what’s next?”

“I suppose you already have your candidates chosen?  Or at least you have an idea of who you want?  The first step is to nominate your candidate, and if that person agrees, then we ask who else supports him or her, that person has to have at least another three persons supporting their candidacy, only then will that person be accepted as a candidate.  Any questions?”

No one questioned William, so they proceeded to nominate their candidates.  Some didn’t have the support they required and William didn’t take into account those who nominated themselves, even so the process was quick.  Part of me expected my name to be called, but soon it was clear no one was going to nominate me, and I did my best to hide my disappointment, I convinced myself that it was time to turn the page and start a new chapter in my life.  At the end there were five candidates, three of which came from the same region and represented countries that were both stable and prosperous.

“How are you feeling?” Kimball asked me, while William was going over the next steps with the leaders.

“I’m still not sure,” I said, sincerely.  “I’m sure that once I have to step down, this whole business will finally register, but for the moment it doesn’t feel real.  But this is a good thing, right?  We have options, this is not the end, but a new beginning.”

“That’s right,” Kimball said, but I could see he had his doubts, or at least I thought he did, maybe I was just projecting myself.

“I think that’s the best option,” William was saying, “Capital City is prepared to host all the leaders, we already have the accommodations and the security needed in place, and I think that it’s best to vote in person.  If one of you cannot make it for any reason, you can always send your Ambassador in your place,” William waited for someone to protest, when no one did, he ended his part of the meeting, and gave me back my place.

“Since we solved that issue, can we move on with our schedule?  Or do you prefer if we postpone the rest of the issues until after the vote?  I guess you still have a lot to think about or discuss, and some of you need to prepare if you are going to travel to Capital City or make arrangements with your Ambassadors if you aren’t.”

“I think it would be a good idea to postpone until after the election, there’s nothing urgent in the schedule anyway,” one of the Presidents said, and her words were followed with a series of agreements.

“Ok.  I guess most of you will be staying in the Towers during your visits, but if one of you need help arranging something different, please let me know so I can help you.  I still have a lot of work to do, so I will try to make the most of the time I still have, but you can stay connected if you want to discuss something further.”

I walked out of the room, feeling weird by leaving them there, but there was still a lot of work to do before my time ran out.  I knew that some of my plans and proposals would be left on the side, still, I felt like I needed to make sure they were ready in case my successor decided to keep working on them.  The situation was different than when Dante had been elected, and it would be harder for me to move forward.

Once we left the room, Kimball put his arm around my shoulders, giving me a one armed hug, offering me his support.  I haven’t realized how much I needed his support until he gave it to me, as always, Kimball knew exactly what I needed, and once again I had to be thankful that I had him by my side.

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Chapter 28

For the first time since I had gotten control of the Dominion we were having a reunion with all the World Leaders, it was something the old Dominion used to do, the Prime Minister was mostly a mediator between the different leaders in the early days, making sure they were all in agreement.  Some activities, programs and actions were decreed by the Prime Minister, but most countries still had the freedom to adapt or modify them as long as they managed the get the same results.  Reunions like the one I was planning were something usual, and now that we had achieved a new level of stability, I believed it was time to start having them again.

The meeting room I was going to be using was not the original one, I had been told that Emily had modified the original one so it would only transmit her orders, but not allow others to talk back to her.  The best tecnopaths in my team, and other tech experts, like Kimball, had worked on getting a new room ready for the meeting.  When the first leaders started to appear, I had to appreciate their work, the holograms were so good that it was almost as if they were in the room with me.

One by one they started to blink to life, until the room had more than a hundred representations ready.  In just a few seconds the place that had been empty was full.  For a moment I worried about the complications of having so many people together for a conversation, but it was a little late to worry about that kind of thing.

“Good morning,” I knew that my voice was reaching them all through the system, each one of them was hearing me in their native language, the same way I was going to hear them in the language I was more familiar with.  “I’m grateful that you all accepted to be part of this meeting.  As I understand it, meetings like this were an usual happening before Emily’s time, and since I’m doing my best to take things as close as I can to the old status quo, I think this kind of collaboration is a good step to take.  I have worked very hard to do what’s best for everyone, but I know that I haven’t always been successful, but I think with your help and your feedback, we can do a better job.  Even if most of you know each other, and I have your basic information, I think it would be a good idea to use this first meeting to introduce all of you to each other.  It would be also a good exercise to talk about the biggest challenges your countries face.  If you all agree, we can use this exercise to try and identify the main problems that affect the most countries so we can start working on that.  Like I said, I have tried my best to face the problems you all are facing, but I know you may have some problems that maybe I don’t see or consider as such.”

“Are you really going to treat this meeting as a kindergarten’s first class?” Kgosi said, his manners derogatory.  “I don’t know how things work in the place you come from…”

“In the place I come from, you would be already dead for daring to speak to me like that,” I interrupted him.  I knew that Kgosi still had issues with me, but I never imagined he would confront me like that in front of everyone.  “You are lucky we are not in the Empire, in fact, you are lucky I’m not in Mzansi, because attitude like that also demands retribution in your culture, and you know exactly how a confrontation between us would end.”

“Is this how you choose to lead these meetings?  With intimidation and threats?” Kgosi said, but I knew many people would be sharing his way of thinking, but with the virtual meeting I had no way of knowing what they were thinking or feeling, I can only go on based on their expressions, and that wasn’t enough at the moment.

“You know how nice and cordial I can be, you are the one who insists on antagonizing me.  Do we need to take this up to Zola?  Do you need your aunt to teach you some diplomacy?  I know she has a lot of experience with that, she helped me a lot.  Now, are you going to keep wasting everyone’s time?  Or can we go on with our meeting?  Does someone else has something to say about the exercise I proposed?  I can take any critic, good or bad, as long as it’s done in a respectful way.”

“In fact,” Natasha said, she was one of my first Aquarium’s refugees, one that had gone out to assume a leadership position in her country, and was doing a good job despite her youth, “I think it was a good idea.  Some of us do know each other very well, and have already built good relationships, but I know most of the others from information I read in a dossier, and a few photos.  Also, if we are going to be working together, it makes sense to track the biggest problems across the Dominion.  If you all agree, I can start with the dynamic you proposed.”

“Thanks, Natasha.  If no one has any objections, I have no problem with you being the first,” as no one said anything, I took that as a confirmation that no one had any objections.  At first, they weren’t that willing to talk, but as most people talked, the others seemed to become more comfortable with the exercise.

It was a little weird, but at the end it was a productive exercise.  I actually knew all of them already, maybe not personally, but I had information, more than some of them would be comfortable with, on all of them.  Still, it was not the same to read about them than to talk to them.  In the same way that knowing the countries didn’t mean that I knew what they needed.  Many of the leaders were mentioning problems that I didn’t consider important or even relevant, but that were for them.  Also, I noticed, by watching them interact with each other, that countries in the same region had a lot in common, creating regions with similar needs, something that was important to take into consideration.

During the interactions among the different leaders it was possible to identify the postures of each country, after a while it became clear who among them was in their position because they loved their people and wanted what was best for them, and who was there only because the prestige the position gave them.  Some of them who took their work seriously already had answers ready, those who didn’t give me incomplete or vague answers.

Another thing that was easy to see who was willing to work with me for the greater good, and who was willing to work against me, luckly the second category was smaller than the first.

The reunion took most of the morning, but I felt like it had been worth it, and I was convinced it was something that would be good for the Dominion.

“How did it go?” Kimball asked when I met with him for lunch.

“Better than I expected,” I said sincerely, “I really think these kind of meetings will be good for future projects.  In a way it wasn’t that much different from the Clan Leaders Reunions that we had every year, and even if people here are more discreet about it, the antagonism and the need to show who’s better is also very similar.”

“How did they receive you?  You didn’t have trouble?”

“Most of them were very good, Kgosi was the one that who caused trouble.  I’m sure that given a chance things would have deteriorated very fast.  I don’t get his need to go against me when we have been working together, and mostly in his benefit for so long.”

“Kgosi is too proud.  What did you do to keep things under control?”

“I talked to him in a language he would understand, with a show of strength, and maybe a threat to tell on him to Zola,” Kimball started to laugh at that, and it was in that moment that Ethan walked in.  He wasn’t always able to join us for lunch, it depended on his school activities, and even if it was hard to remember his schedule, I was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to be able to join us that day.”

“How did it go?” Ethan asked.

“Shouldn’t you be at school?” Kimball asked, confirming what I already suspected about his schedule.

“I asked to leave early and skip training, I wanted to see how things had gone at mom’s meeting.”

“You worry too much about this kind of things,” I said, trying to suppress my smile.  I had already noticed Ethan’s interest in politics, something that had been encouraged by most of his relatives in Mzansi, and in a smaller scale by his father and me.  I had already seen his possible futures, and it was a good thing he was getting ready for it.

“I’m just curious.”

“Well, then let me tell you that everything went well, a few problems at the beginning, but nothing out of the ordinary, everything worked out after a while.  I would have liked for the meeting to be in person, just to be able to read their emotions and see any errant thought they had.”

“It’s really hard to find any errant thoughts from people like them, they usually train to avoid that, and even if you went deeper to see them, most is capable of feel any mental exploration.  If you want I can be with you next time and see if I can find any expression that suggest they are lying or hiding something,” Kimball offered.

“Didn’t you record the meeting?  If it’s recorded you can go over it and look for people’s expressions.”

“It is recorded, as far as I know, but for the moment I don’t think it’s necessary to do that, nothing really important was discussed and the different alliances are just starting to form.  I expect we won’t face any trouble, at least not for a while.  For the moment, there’s still work to do, but mostly I have to start working on giving them back more power, but at the same time I have to make sure they don’t abuse it.  I don’t want to give them freedom and have that as an excuse for them to lose control.”

“That’s a valid fear,” Kimball said, “but for the moment, everything is still fresh, everyone is full of hope, but also of revolutionary spirit, I don’t think people will start showing their true colors just yet, they will wait until people start to get comfortable again, to when the people is so happy and grateful for what they have that they don’t realize when the government starts taking more or giving less.”

“I just want to think that everything is just going to keep getting better.  And how are things at school?”

“Everything is fine, a few students have been trying to cause trouble, but nothing to worry about,” Ethan said, trying not to make a big deal of it, and not offering near enough information, but he didn’t need to, the people I had posted at school kept me informed of everything that happened there.  It looked like Ethan had named himself the protector of the place, and he had been keeping everyone under control.  No one was able to face him, but I wasn’t worried because he never took advantage of that, as far as the reports said, all he did was make sure that everything was peaceful.

“It’s good to know,” Kimball said.  He too knew what really happened there, but none of us let Ethan know that we knew.  I wasn’t sure if he suspected something and was just playing along, or if he thought he was fooling us.  I wasn’t curious enough about it to go into his mind, but it was something I kept my mind open to.

“Do you want to come with me to the office later today?” I asked Ethan.  “If you want you can take a look at the recording of the meeting,” I said, curious about Ethan’s opinion, I knew he would be a great leader someday, he could take differents paths, but all of them ended with him in a position of power.

“I’m not sure if that’s legal,” Kimball said.

“Nothing we discussed was classified.  If he can sit on the Elder’s Council’s boring meetings, I’m sure he can deal with watching a bunch of people go from talking about how wonderful their country is, to complaining about everything they still need.”

“I guess that there’s no problem then,” Kimball said, and we both turned to look at Ethan, and by watching his huge smile we could already tell what his answer was going to be.

“Of course I would like that, if there is no problem.”

“Usual rules apply, you need to finish your homework, and you can’t share anything you hear, unless we discuss it first.”

“Of course, I already know.”

Once we went back to my office, I didn’t need to explain anything to Ethan.  Most of his powers were a copy of mine, knowledge that I had been able to share mostly because of or mutual Vlad blood that allowed us to share powers.  Only his empathy, that was his natural power, and his technopaty didn’t come from my teachings.  He had been learning technopathy by himself, and I suspected that Jeong’s family had helped with that, but most of it was because of his own curiosity and part because of Kimball’s teachings.  Even if he didn’t spend as much time as before, Kimball liked to go to his workshop and invent or improve things, Ethan had been by his side as much as he could, and eventually his powers started to manifest and adapt to help him with his own inventions.  I knew what Ethan was capable of, and the way he walked into my office and immediately was able to access the recordings, that should be protected under several layers of security, was a good example.  But that wasn’t anything especial for him, and not long after he was already inmersed in the meeting.

My children were growing so fast, Ethan was no longer a little child, he was becoming a man, a great one like his father.  Malkia and Greca had long ago left that part of their lives behind, and that was even more evident with Malkia becoming Antrax’s partner and adquiring many of Ivy’s functions, since she had been forced to step down after conspiring with the Slavers.  Greca was also going to go far, and by her own merits.  Everyone would be great, and somethings I had to wonder if my legacy was helping them, or just making their journey even more complicated.

Chapter 27

Everything seemed to be falling into place, the living conditions in the Dominion had improved significantly and after a year of Dante assuming the position of President things were moving to the future.  At least that was what I thought until I got a report with a list of proposals that were being discussed in the Congress.

I had started thinking that, despite my fears, letting go of the control of the Congress had been a good idea, but after reading the list and found one of Dante’s proposals, I felt my fears had been justified.

“Karl!” I called for my assistant.  He ran into my office, ready to follow my orders.  “I need you to call a meeting with Dante and William as soon as possible.  If it can be done today, then do it.”

“Right away,” he said, before going back out, and started making the necessary calls to schedule the meeting.

William had been working on repairing our relationship, and even if I still couldn’t trust him completely, our relationship had improved a lot.  I just hoped he would take my side on that issue, because if he took Dante’s side, I felt our fragile relationship was going to suffer a huge hit.

I still had a lot to do, and I kept working while I waited for a date for the meeting I had called, it was in part thanks to my double mind that I was able to keep working on my actual work while my mind insisted on going over and over the new problem.  Finally, at the end of the day, Karl let me know that the meeting had been scheduled to take place in two days.

Those two days felt like an eternity, especially because I knew that the proposal was already being discussed in the Congress.  I had no idea if the Representatives were going to be willing to vote it to become a law, but it was something I couldn’t risk.

When the day of the meeting finally arrived, I was ready to fight Date.

“Greetings Kaiserin,” William greeted me warmly, he gave me a hug, a little hesitant of my reaction, not knowing if I would accept it.

“Thanks for coming,” I said, hugging him back, and earning a smile from him.

“As always, I only came because I had the impression this wasn’t optional,” Dante complained.

“And in this occasion, like the others, it wasn’t.”

“What is this about?  My assistant didn’t tell me what you wanted to talk about, but I had the impression that it was urgent,” William asked.

“Did you get a report with the proposals that are being discussed in the Congress?”

“I did get it, but I must confess I haven’t gone over it yet,” William said.

“I don’t get why that would require this reaction,” Dante said, “there’s nothing there that justifies this meeting.”

“What about the proposal of Service to the Nation?”

“What about it?  Do you think the mandatory time of service is too short?”

“I think it’s too long, the whole idea is awful.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m a little lost, could you explain what are you talking about?” William asked.

“I found a proposal in the report that talks about forcing every person in the Dominion to work for the government for a year, for free.”

“You should be happy about it, most of your project requires intensive labor, and you don’t have enough people for that, you are being forced to pay a lot to get the workers you need.  Besides, it’s not like we are taking advantage of the, we will cover their basic needs during that year,” Dante said.

“What you are doing is forcing everyone in the Dominion to be slaves for a year.  Do you really expect people to just agree with that?  We are supposed to be better than Emily and Faakhir, but you are trying to turn us into tyrants,” I said, doing my best to control my anger.  “We finally ended the fighting, but this will cause people in the Dominion to start rebelling again.”

“I think you are exaggerating,” Dante said, “I don’t think that people will be so selfish as to refuse to help with the reconstruction of the Dominion.  You keep talking about taking the Dominion back to its former glory, this is how we will do it.”

“People need to feel in control of their own lives, they need to have the opportunity to choose their destiny, even if that choice is only an illusion, it’s necessary for people’s mental health.  From the moment I took this position, my only goal was to free the people in the Dominion, and I won’t let you use this cheap trick to enslave them again.  If we do this, we will become the same kind of people we are fighting.”

“You are overreacting, this is nothing like that.  You will see that your fears have no reason to be, once the program starts working.

“This will never become a law,” I promised.

“That’s not up to you, that’s a matter of Congress.”

“The Congress may be in charge of writing the laws, but I have the right to veto those that I think are crossing a line.  We would save a lot of time if you just take the proposal out of the table, because you have to believe me, I will do all I can to stop it from becoming a law.”

“You can’t take that kind of decision by your own.”

“Maybe not alone, since the veto power requires me to agree with her, but for the little I have heard I have to agree with Kaiserin on this.  There are other ways of recruiting people to work for us, and even if what you are after is cheap labor, we could use other sources, like people in jail who is paying for their crimes by losing their freedom, we could add labor as part of their punishment, that would feel justified.”  William’s idea wasn’t that bad, it was at least a better alternative to what Dante was suggesting.  “We could even trade the work for years off their sentences, if they are in jail for misdemeanors.”

“If we really need the extra labor, then I agree that those are better alternatives,” I said, considering William’s words.

“I think you are blowing this out of proportion.  In the early talks, everyone agreed that this was a good idea.”

“I just want you to consider that even if you go ahead, there is a good chance that we will veto it,” William said, and I felt better knowing he was willing to take my side.  If Dante kept going, I needed to know I had a way to stop him.

Like it usually happened when dealing with Dante, the reunión ended without reaching an agreement, but at least I had William on my side.

It became clear that Dante was not going to listen to us as the days went by, and when the media realized what he was planning, they started to pay attention.  Most people’s reaction only confirmed my fears, and in some places it was even worse than I expected.  There were a few revolts, but I could keep them under control by promising I wasn’t going to let that proposal become a law.  It usually took a long time to finish the process, but with all the attention it was gathering, that proposal moved to the top and the Representatives were paying it extra attention.  During his year at the head of the Congress Dante had done a good job controlling, or at least steering them in the direction he wanted, but at least people’s reaction was making it clear it was not a popular option.  Still, I was afraid that Dante had enough power to convince the Representatives to vote for it, they were already talking about it needing just a few modifications to be acceptable, but I was still not convinced it was a good idea.

“You are still worried about the Service to the Nation proposal,” Kimball said a night I was unable to sleep.

“I know many people think that I’m exaggerating, but most of them don’t know what it feels to lose control over your life, even if it’s for a short time.  The idea is not that bad, we need more labor, but people is still worried about themselves and working in what they think will be better for themselves, if we force them to leave that behind while they work for us, they will be angry.  The work has to be voluntary.  Dante doesn’t understand that most of the people who originally started working on my projects did it because it was a way to take food for their families, and that was enough to bring a lot of people.  They work for us and do their best because they are working for their families, because they are there by choice, if they were forced to do that job, they wouldn’t work as hard.”

“Dante won’t understand, he takes your protest as an attack to himself.  What you need is to talk to the Representatives, they are the ones who will vote for it.  What you need is to organize some dinners or at least some reunions with a few of them, the ones who haven’t decided how to vote, or even with a few that are willing to support Dante and see if you can change their minds.”

“You know that if I do that, they will accuse me of using my powers to change their minds.  They will say I brainwashed them to support my point of view.  I know that there are ways to prove that I didn’t mess with them, but it will take time and it will affect my credibility, that’s not a risk I want to take, not now that people is finally willing to accept me.”

“Then you will need to do something even more drastic.  What if you talk to the whole Congress?  As Prime Minister you have that right.  You just need to ask for a chance to speak to them.  If you do a public speech, it will be harder for them to accuse you of using your powers.”

“Do you think it would work?”

“Why don’t you use your powers to go into the fog and find by yourself?”

“You know is not that easy, as long as I don’t make a decision, the paths will be too many and will be changing too much, they will be hard to follow and even harder to understand.  If I knew what to do, or at least had a few alternatives, it would be much easier.”

“Then make a decision and go into the fog to see if it works.”

“I could try that, but is still not that easy, looking at all the options could take more time than I have.  But I will think about your suggestion of addressing the Congress.  That’s actually a good idea.”

“Perfect.  Meanwhile, you need to relax,” he said as he put his hands on my waist and pulled me closer to him, until our whole bodies were touching.  Kimball knew what I needed, and how to ease my troubled mind.  With him what in other times would have been a source of fear was nothing but pleasure, an experience I never got tired of.

Just as Kimball had suggested I asked for a space to speak in front of the Congress, and after that I went into the fog to see if that action was really going to work, and I was glad to see that my action had a good chance of changing the minds of enough people to stop Dante’s proposal.

When I walked into the Congress room, I felt people getting uncomfortable.  I didn’t blame them, I had killed Emily in that same place, in front of most of the people that were there.  Despite that difficult beginning, most of the Representatives had learned to respect me, and no longer looked at me as an enemy they needed to fight.

“Greetings everyone, and thank you for having me.  It’s been more than a year since I stopped being your President and let someone else take the position.  At the time most of you suspected my actions and motivations, but I hope that by now you have realized that we are on the same side, we all want what’s best for the Dominion.  This year everything had been going so well, and I was very happy with my decision to step aside.  I can’t say that I regret that now, but I have to admit that I’m worried by what you are doing.  These last few days the Service to the Nation proposal has been getting a lot of attention, and I have to say that it worried me since I first saw it was going to be presented.  As you all know the Dominion suffered a lot during Emily’s and Faakhir’s reign, other than Capital City, they didn’t care about the Dominion, they didn’t care about the people.  For a long time the people didn’t have a choice, they had no right to decide about their lives or their future.  Many people tried to rebel against their tyranny, and ended dead because of that.  Most people lived in fear, without an exit.  Even you were nothing but slaves to the whims of your rulers, most of you bounded by fear of punishment or danger to your loved ones.”

I could see people agreeing with my words, recognizing the truth behind them.  Most didn’t get where I was going with it, but for the moment they agreed with my description.  From the moment that I had killed Emily and Faakhir, we had worked hard getting rid of anyone that had willingly worked for them, or that shared their points of view.

“Do you remember the anger and frustration you felt every time you had to obey the tyrants that didn’t care for anything but themselves?  Do you remember the powerlessness and pain you faced every time you had to second guess every move for fear of what could happen to your or your loved ones if they didn’t like your actions?  Who still remember the relief that came with knowing they were no longer alive and you were free to take make your own choices?  Well, maybe most of you didn’t get to that point right away, most of you thought you were exchanging a cage for another, but I hope that have changed by now.  Those same feelings were shared by most people in the Dominion, for some it was even worse.  Many people had to watch as their patrimony was being stolen, how their freedom taken from them, they had to endure as they watched their loved ones died because they didn’t have food or access to help.  But then Emily and Faakhir were gone and we started working on restoring the Dominion, we created programs to produce enough food for everyone, and we started rebuilding what had been lost.  For the first time in years people was getting control of their lives back.  It’s true that options are very limited for most of them, but at least they have them.  And now, you are going to take that from them by making the Service to the Nation proposal a law.”

The whispers and chats started, some even raised their voices to protest, saying it wasn’t the same thing.  The Representatives were not happy with what I was saying, I was painting them in a way they didn’t appreciate.

“The new proposal is for the good of the Dominion, not personal interest,” a voice said, louder than others.  “It’s just a way for us to make sure everyone is working in the reconstruction of the Dominio.”

“It’s a way to force people to work for it,” I said, “the people who is working right now, is doing it because they want to, of course, some are working for the money, other for the pride of saying they helped to rebuild the Dominion.  But if you make it something forced, then the whole dynamic shifts.  Again, people will feel trapped by living in the Dominion, they will lose their freedom and will be back under the power of something bigger than them.  Many nations have rebelled with less, and I don’t want to be part of the bloodbath that will result of people getting tired of marching and protesting and taking up arms.”

“The proposal doesn’t force everyone to work, and it even contemplates some exceptions,” one of the Representatives pointed out.

“Of course people too old or too young, and those that have disabilities will be exempted, leaving the people working on supporting them picking up the slack.  And of course, rich people who can offer something of the same value will escape the work, letting the poor people doing all the work.  I want you to put yourselves in their places before voting, think how you would feel if your freedom and the wellbeing of the people you care about was being threatened.  We are supposed to be moving forward, not backwards, we shouldn’t repeat old mistakes.  You have a very important job to do, and you have the trust of the people of the Dominion in you, don’t let them down, think about the consequences of approving this law.”

“People will understand we need to do this,” someone said.

“Everything has been going well, slow, but well, we can see a bright future on the horizon.  That’s why implementing this law now, is unnecessary.  Everything is moving along, maybe not as fast as some people would want, but still, they’re coming along, thanks to our government and the hard work of the people.  We have to recognize the effort of those working for us, reward their work, we won’t do that by forcing them to work for us.  Please, I ask you again, put yourselves in their place and think of the consequences of passing this law.  Thank you.”  I really hoped that my words were enough to change their minds, and really think about the proposal and the vote they needed to make.

“You did a good job,” Kimball said as he escorted me out of the room.

“Do you think it would be enough?  I know from my travel to the fog that there is a good chance of the proposal being dismissed after my visit, but, do you think I spoke the right words?”

“I believe you did, now all we can do is wait.”

Chapter 26

I could hear Ethan pacing the hallway, trying not to make noise, and failing completely.

“I think we need to go check on your son, he seems a little nervous,” Kimball suggested with a smile, I should have known he was also awake.

“It’s not the same to fight those you know, than to face new enemies.”

It had been a month since Ethan’s school tournament, and the International version was about to start, with more than a hundred opponents in every category.  I didn’t expect Ethan to be worried about it, but I was kind of glad for that, because it meant he was taking it seriously and with the necessary respect.

I got up and got ready for the day.  I was still feeling a little guilty for leaving Ethan after his victory in the previous tournament.  He had insisted he had no issues with that, but I still felt like I owed him for that, and I had decided to be with him all through the new tournament.

“Good morning,” I said, as I walked outside my room, I knew he was just around the corner and he would be able to hear me.

“Good morning, mom,” he said, just pushing his head around the corner and smiling at me nervously.

“Can’t wait for the tournament to start?”

“Kind of, I’m not sure what to expect, I don’t know most of the participants.  Nos that Emily is no longer in charge of it, a lot of people decided to be part of it.  Which is kind of weird, since people still claims you are worse than her.”

“What you did the last time, blocking your powers, I don’t think you should do it again, I would feel better if you let your powers active and use them to have some protection, a psychic barrier around you would be a good idea,” I said, focusing on my own worries about the tournament.

“Do you think I won’t be able to win without my powers?” he asked, his voice the same as always, but I could feel he was feeling hurt by my words.

“I trust you to win this tournament without trouble, with or without your powers, but I fear you could be hurt.  I don’t want you to suffer any pain if you can avoid it,” I could tell he felt better with my statement.

“Your mother is just being a mom, worried about her son,” Kimball said, walking out of our room.  “You have a long day ahead of you, you need a big breakfast to be ready to face it.”

“I’m not really hungry,” Ethan complained.

“You have nothing to worry about, everything is going to be fine and you will realize there was nothing to worry about.”

“Did you have a vision?”

“I don’t need my powers to tell that you are strong enough to defeat all your opponents and win the tournament.  You are my son, you have the blood of great warriors running through your veins, and I know you will keep a cold head and would be able to defeat every opponent.”

“Thanks mother, I promise I won’t disappoint you.”

“I would be proud of you even if you lost your first fight, but please, don’t do that, it would be super embarrassing for my son to lose so soon,” I added, going for my cold persona, and getting a fit of laughing out of Ethan.

Out of everything Emily had done, the tournament was one of the few things people agreed had been a good thing, so I had never tried to end it.  But unlike the previous tournament, the international version was much bigger and was going to last the whole weekend.

From the moment we arrived, I felt the presence of all the people there and finally understood why they had moved the venue to a bigger place.  The number of fights that were going to be taking place at the same time was bigger than the last time.  The number of people attending was also bigger, and the number of attendees made it easier for me to justify why I was there without having to confess that I was there because of my son.

Several Representatives from different countries were also there to cheer for the participants from their countries, and because of that, many of the most powerful men and women in the Dominion were in attendance, which explained why they had requested increased security.

“It seems that this event has more people interested in it that I expected.  I never came with Emily to one of these while I was working with her, this is not what I expected,” I told Kimball, who was by my side.

“I don’t think the event used to have this many expectators in previous years.  The fact that there are so many people now has more to do with you, and the trust the people in the Dominion has on you.  Even if it doesn’t look like it, the fact that so many people are willing to send their children here, means that they trust you with them.  Everyone knew that Emily used these events to recruit children for her army, so many people hid their children from her by avoiding the tournaments.  It’s a little like what we did with Ethan, by asking him to hide his abilities so he wouldn’t catch their attention.  But now everyone knows that they are going to be safe, or at least most people.”

“But I still have the same prize, that if a kid wins, they will have the option to come live here and study at Capital City school.”

“You said it right, the option,” Kimball repeated, “you made it clear it was an option, and I think that is one of the reasons so many people came.

At that moment I noticed a little blonde girl that was running at top speed, directly to where Ethan was, and I realized she had no intention of stopping.  Kimball felt my tension and turned to see what had caught my attention.  Just as I was getting ready to act, I felt Kimball’s hand on my arm.

“That’s young Juliana, one of Ethan’s cousins,” he explained before I could act.  “She is not in line for the throne, still I’m surprised she was allowed to participate.”

“I don’t remember her.”

“She is from my mother’s side, you know she is related to some of the European royalty, and we have many relatives there, even if I’m not as close to them as to my mzansier relatives.  That is my cousin Zaria’s daughter, she is one of my cousins with voice powers.”

“That’s right, you told me you recognized Molpadia’s power because of your experience with your cousins,” I remembered.  Kimball had a big family, and I hadn’t had the chance to get to meet all of them.  The whole issue with the Dominion had left me a little isolated, and even if my new position had put me in contact with a couple of royals that were part of Kimball’s extended family, I didn’t know most of Victoria’s close family, since they weren’t as politically involved.

Little Juliana had reached Ethan and had jumped into his arms.  Ethan didn’t seem to have a problem with that, and they were talking happily while we watched.

“I think my mother likes to talk to Ethan about our family, it’s very likely she introduced them before.  They seem to know each other very well.”

“Do you think we should make a bigger effort in staying in contact with them?” I asked, worried that I wasn’t being a good mother by keeping Ethan away from them, not letting him establish connections that could help him in the future, but especially connections that were useful to a sensible kid like him.

“It seems they have it under control,” Juliana and Ethan were introducing their friends to each other, and the group around them was getting bigger.

“What do you think will be the results for this tournament?  Do you think any country has an advantage over the others?”

“It’s hard to tell.  Some kids come from rich families that had invested a lot of time and money training them, while others come from difficult situations where they had to fight to survive, for them every day was a constant fight.  As you know that gives them different styles that in turn can cause very different results.  None is better than the other, they are just different, but both styles can create amazing warriors.”

“I was thinking about offering some of the most promising kids the chance to come here to study, no matter if they win or not.  Do you think we could do that?  Could we afford to offer them a place here?”

“I think we could find a way, it’s just a matter of shifting some numbers in the budget, or we could even use our own money to sponsor them.  As Prime Minister you have a high salary, and you hardly touch it.”

“You are right, I think we could make it work.  If you see someone you think could be a good match, let me know and I will do a little research to see if they are a good fit.”

“I don’t care what anyone says, you are a good woman and a great ruler,” Kimball said, taking my hand and caressing it discreetly.  Even if the way people saw me, and the general feelings about me were changing, I wasn’t comfortable with public displays of affection, despite all the changes I still felt better by showing people a colder, harsher side of me.

Just a while after the inauguration of the tournament I felt the overwhelming presence of the participants, their emotions were intense and diverse, so much that I had to focus not to let it get to me.  Again, we could see many fights taking place at the same time, which made it a little harder to follow all of them, luckily finding the best fighters was easy.  As Kimball had said, it was hard to identify a country that was best one, but there were a few that were better than others, or at least had more participants moving on, and Capital City was one of the few countries that had almost all of its participants moving on, but it was too soon to point to a clear winner.

At first it seemed as if Ethan was going to have an easy time moving forward, but then a couple of his opponents proved to be good enough to give him a real fight.  The fact that he was using his powers to protect himself was leaving him at a disadvantage against the other kids, since he had to focus on maintaining his defense, and that caused his movements to be slower, but at the same time it gave him a higher level of protection that others didn’t have.  The other advantage for his defense is that his opponents thought they were hitting him, and hurting him, when in fact they were only hitting his barrier, and while they were thinking they were doing damage, they were the ones getting tired, and slowly falling apart while Ethan, with his higher than normal strength.  Even if Ethan wasn’t as strong as a mutant, he was strong enough to defeat them.

At midday the kids, and their parents, were given a break so they could get some rest and something to eat.  I decided to invite a few of them to a private dining room.  I invited Kimball’s family, both sides, his European and African relatives, also a few of the families I had had previous contact with, those that I knew well enough to feel comfortable being myself.

“My dear cousin, is so good to see you again!” said a woman that I guessed was Zaria, since she was with Juliana, and had some resemblance to Victoria.  She threw herself into Kimball’s arms, in the same way that Juliana had done with Ethan that morning.

“It’s been a while.  Congratulations, your daughter is doing a great job so far, I can tell she will get far.”

“Are you saying she won’t win her category?” Zaria accused.

“She has some tough competitors, so we can’t be sure she will win,” he answered directly.  “Allow me to introduce you to my wife,” he added, trying to change the topic.

As soon as I moved closer to them, I could tell that Zaria was planning something.  Kimball has already told me a lot of stories about their childhood, so I had a good idea of what she could be trying to do, and when I noticed she was taking a deep breath, I didn’t need any more clues, I used my powers to apply some pressure in her neck, enough to affect her breathing and send her into a coughing fit.

“Next time think twice before trying something against me.  Never forget who I am and what I’m capable of.”  Kimball seemed to understand what had almost happened, but some of my others guests had no idea what was going on.

“I like her,” Zaria said once she got her voice back.  “Good job cousin, you found a strong woman that can keep you under control.”

“It’s the other way around, I’m the one who has to keep her under control,” Kimball joked.

“Be careful with what you’re saying, or you will also lose your voice.”  I warned Kimball, trying to sound cold, but if the smile he was trying to suppress was any indications, I was failing to fool him.  Once he started laughing, I knew I had failed.

As usual in groups of people who knew me better, people started to approach me without any fear, willing to talk and offer their opinions about the fights.  Those who were less used to me, or at least most because Zaria and her daughter didn’t seem to know the concept of fear, were keeping themselves away from me, and were doing their best not to do something that could make me angry.

At the end of the first day of competition Ethan and his cousins were still in the fight.  The second day was easier, with less fights and more time between them, to give the contestants some time to rest.  Once again, I invited people to have lunch with me in the private room, and I could feel people were more relaxed and comfortable the second day, even if a few of the kids, like Juliana, were still angry at losing their fights.

In the afternoon we had the semi-finals and finals.  I did my best to pay attention to every fight, but my focus was on those where I could see especial kids that I was interested in offering a place in Capital City, so they could study and train with the kids that represented the future of the Dominion.  Even if a few of them rejected my offer, I was going to find a way to help them get better opportunities.  The future generations were very important to me.  I just hoped that neither William nor Dante did something to try and stop me, accusing me of trying to manipulate the future.

Ethan’s last fight was harder than any of us expected, his opponent was a kid that could manipulate his body in a way made it look as if Ethan was never going to be able to connect a hit.  Since Ethan was using his psychic barrier and had adjusted it to be farther from his body, so it would be clear that none of his opponent’s hits were connecting with him, the fight went longer than any other.  I kept expecting Ethan to change his strategy and use his powers, but he kept true to his plan, and even if it took him longer to score all the hits he needed to win, he eventually managed to win.

We had a big party after the tournament to celebrate all the kids that had won in their categories, we had moved to a great hall, and once there I went to offer them the chance to move to Capital City and enjoy all the advantages they would have there, but most of them declined the invitation.

While we were celebrating with the winners, I sent some of my people to find the other kids that had proved to be good elements and give them envelopes that contained an invitation to study in Capital City.  As I expected, the number of kids that accepted the invitation among that group was larger, and I had my people working on the details right away.  The school year in Capital City was about to end, classes in other countries followed different schedules, but I knew that everyone would be free in time to start the year in Capital City.

By the time we arrived at our home, it was early morning, and Ethan was still full of energy from his victory, but we eventually convinced him that he needed to rest.

“You were right,” I told Kimball before we went to our room, “the tournament was a very interesting event.  Maybe is not such a bad idea to bring back a few more international competitions.  It could be a good way for the different countries to share experiences and connect again.”

“There are already a Committee and a Department that is in charge of that kind of things, maybe you could talk to them and get them to start working on that.  But that can wait, you don’t have to do everything right in the moment.  You did a good job today.  I think more and more people is realizing that you are not a demon sent to destroy us all.”

“This is not how we planned things to be, but I can’t complain, everything is going better than I expected.”

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.

Mother…

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.

“Malkia!”

“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.