Chapter 10

“The Committe is ready for you,” one of my assistants told me.

“I will be there in a minute.”

I had been more careful, the reunion was going to be in the Palace, in one or the meeting rooms, and I had my people all around me.  I knew that the attack my enemies had planned had been successfully stopped even before they had the chance to act, and the people involved had been arrested, but there were a few of Faakhir’s loyal followers still at large.  We hadn’t been able to find another big attack during our walks through the fog, but still, most people had warned me to be careful.  Sofia had even suggested that I needed Agata with me, and Kimball had agreed that it was a good idea to make her part of my bodyguards.

Agata was a very infamous assassin that the Tech Committe had hired to get rid of me, she had been one of the few persons that had been close to killing me, but despite her grim power, she was a good person at heart, one that only wanted justice.  It had taken me a while to convince her to let go of her need for vengeance against those who had asked her to kill me, and I had sent her to Aquarium for a while to keep her away, but she was, after all, a very powerful weapon they wanted me to use to be safe.  Agata was a great and loyal ally, but I wanted to keep her away from those she perceived as evil, from those she wanted to punish, so I left her behind while I went to my meeting, taking Ivan and Yoweri with me instead.

“Thank you for coming,” I greeted the members of the committee.

“Again, it’s not like we had a choice,” representative Burgos replied.

“Unfortunately, our last meeting was cut short because of a few issues, but I trust that you have been working with the Agriculture Committee in the thinks I asked you to.”

“I think that there are more important things than working on finding a better way to produce wine…” representative Kozak started to protest.

“You should know you can farm other things.  I think you know that we need more food sources, I have no interest of ruling over a bunch of dead bodies.  Corpses can’t work, can they?  We need to find a way to feed people, don’t you think?”  They all looked surprised at my request, but I knew they had to agree that what I was asking for was something we needed.  “I want you to keep working on that, I know there are places where they can grow things naturally, but there are places that need some help.  I will have another meeting with the Agriculture Committee to talk about the best places and methods to farm, but I want you to work with them and offer whatever help you can.  But first, I need you to work on some universal translators.  I know that my predecessors forbade the use of them, they preferred everyone to talk their language, but I think it’s better to have the translators and have everyone talk in whatever language they feel comfortable, that would avoid misunderstandings.”

“Emily forbade those translators…”

“Because she wanted everything her say,” I interrupted, “she wanted everyone to talk like her, to do and like the same things she did.  She wanted to change everyone’s culture to match hers and impose her will on the Dominion.  I don’t care about those things, I don’t care what they do or how they do it.  Instead of threatening and punishing those who talk different, I want to be able to understand them.  There are too many languages in the Dominion to learn them all, that’s why I need the translator, and I want everyone working with the government to have on.”

“That doesn’t seem to be a bad idea,” Jeong said, cutting off the discussion that was about to start.  “That’s one of the things we actually wanted to reintroduce.  We can start working on that immediately, we should be able to have enough of them in a few days.”

“You have until Friday,” I said.

“But that only gives us three days,” Representative Burgos protested.

“I’m sure you should have a few stored somewhere, ready to be used as soon as you need them.”

“Can’t you give us a little more time?”

“I want to reintroduce a few old customs, things from before Emily and Faakhir took control, starting with the separation of powers.  I will start by introducing a new King, and I want the universal translator by then.”

“So Kimball will finally make it to King?” Jeong asked.  I decided to ignore the comment, I knew most people were going to assume that he was the one I had chosen to take the position, and that I was going to continue the tradition of keeping everything in the family.

“That’s all I had to tell you, I don’t care how, but I want you to have the translators ready by this Friday.”

I walked out of the room while they were still protesting, but Kimball had said that it was possible to have them ready, so I ignored the protests.  As I walked away, I was aware I was being followed.  I didn’t worry about it, not with Ivan and Yoweri walking by my side, but once I realized that Jeong was the one behind me and that we were getting closer to where Agata was waiting, and I started to get worried about what could happen if they saw each other.

“If you allow me, I want a word with you,” Jeong said.

“I’m busy and already said all I needed to say.”

“This is about Agmong and Sklave,” he said, and I felt cold.

“How do you know those names?” I couldn’t help but ask.

“I know what happened in the vineyard,” Jeong said.  “And I have recordings.  If you mess with my memory again or something happens to me, those recordings will go public and everyone in the Dominion will know what happened there.”

“Let’s talk in my office,” I said, I didn’t want to have that discussion in the hallway.  I could feel that Ivan and Yoweri were mad, but I made a signal so they knew not to act, I couldn’t risk them making Jeong mad until I found out what he knew and what he wanted.

When we arrived at my office Ivan opened the door and Yoweri went inside before Jeong noticed, but when Ivan tried to get in Jeong stopped him.  Ivan looked at me for confirmation and I just shook my head, we needed to play his game for the moment.  I needed to know exactly what he knew and what he wanted before acting.  I knew that Yoweri was already inside, even if I was stressed enough not to be able to see him.

“Explain,” I asked Jeong, trying to sound confident and calm, but the knowledge that he had recordings of what had happened had affected me more than I cared to admit.  “How do you managed to know what happened?”

“As you know, Faakhir liked to mess with people’s minds, and I created a recording device that allowed me to record everything happening around me, so if that ever happened to me I could realize it.  I just wanted to make sure that if Faakhir messed with my mind, I knew it, with a recording I could at least know if he went into trance.  I don’t trust you, so I decided to keep using the device.  That day in the vineyard, I knew something had happened, so as soon as I went back home, I went over the recordings and I was able to learn everything, including your true name, Sklave.”

“That’s not my name!” I yelled, unable to stop myself.  After all that time, I couldn’t believe that my enemies were aware of my past and my weak points.  I knew that people like Jeong could easily transmit the information to his friends.  I could see his superficial thoughts, he wasn’t even trying to mask them, and I could see the torture I had suffered through his eyes, and the feeling of vulnerability was coming back to me.  “You saw the recordings, but you don’t understand them,” Jeong tried to speak, but I stopped him with a gesture.  “Who has seen these recordings?”

“My wife, obviously,” he said with a shrug, “it’s only fair since that was also part of the memories you took from us.  You have gone through a lot of work to keep your past hidden, so I guess you don’t want those recordings to become public knowledge.  So, it all depends on you, if you want me to keep them secret.”

“I never thought that our little war would end with blackmail.  Tell me, what do you want?”

“What I want, you can’t give me,” Jeong said, angry, “but I can settle for a little justice.  I want you to listen and listen well, Sklave…”

“I.  Am.  Not.  Sklave.” I repeated.  I knew that I shouldn’t make him angry, I needed time to come up with a plan, with a way to destroy or contain the recordings.  I didn’t know how to do something like that, but maybe Kimball knew.  I closed my eyes and tried to calm down, but that only made things worst, since as soon as I closed my eyes the memories of my torture from Jeong’s point of view came to me, I saw myself like he had seen me, I saw Sklave, a weak, defeated woman.

“Going with your reaction that day, I know you would be willing to do a lot just to keep that knowledge secret,” I didn’t confirm that, but Jeong wasn’t a fool, he knew what he was doing.  “Do you know what else I realized watching those recordings?  I noticed how you faced the torture just giving glimpses of vulnerability, and I watched you break the moment they hurt your husband.  You are not as indifferent to him as you pretend to be.  You have an Aquiles heel.”  I tried to convince myself that I had nothing to fear, that even if he was threatening me, it was not a threat he could fulfill.  “I wonder if your attitude towards Ethan is also an act.”

“Before you try something against him, should I remind you how your daughter was crying when he was hurt during the battle at the school?  Just stop stalling and tell me what you want.”

“I already told you, I want justice!” Jeong yelled, hitting my desk with his open palm and standing up in front of me.  “I want everyone to know that the woman that pretends to be a powerful warrior was nothing more than a slave in her own land.”

I could understand Jeong and his need for vengeance, he had seen me throw his son out of a plane after all, but at the same time I couldn’t let him destroy everything I had been working on, I only needed to find a way to stop him.  What price would I have to pay for him to be satisfied?  I was still trying to come up with something when I noticed that Agata was moving closer to Jeong.  I knew immediately what she wanted to do, but I couldn’t allow her to harm him, I still didn’t know what security measures he had taken to protect himself from me.

“Stop!” I ordered Agata, but she ignored me.

“Agata?” Jeong asked, confused by her presence.  I didn’t think he would be able to recognize the assassin he had hired to kill me, but apparently he knew exactly who she was.  “But… you should be dead.  You never came back, and you never leave a job unfinished.”

“Kaiserin was judged and found innocent,” Agata said, her sweet, angelic voice a macabre contrast to her intensity and the meaning of her words.  “You and your people were judged and found guilty of trying to trick me into harming an innocent.”

“Agata, stop right now,” I said, trying to sound firm, but I already knew she wouldn’t be easily convinced of changing her mind.

“This wouldn’t be happening if you had allowed me to finish my work,” Agata said.  “They deserve to be punished.”

“Agata, I already told you, they were justified to try and seek vengeance, he saw me pushing his son out of a plane, he doesn’t know the reasons behind my actions.”

“They sent me to kill an innocent,” Agata repeated, and I could see in her eyes that there was nothing I could do to stop her, “they knew the price they would have to pay for that.”

Agata’s body started to fall down, and I knew her mind was already moving to attack Jeong.  I also knew that most people couldn’t survive her attacks.  I used my double mind to pull Agata into my mind, where I knew I could contain her long enough to calm her down.  I knew she was acting out of guilt, and that she wouldn’t do anything to harm me, or so I hoped.

“What did you do?  You brainwashed her, didn’t you?”

“Or maybe Agata found something in her that made her change her mind,” Yoweri, who even I had forgotten was in the room, said.  I was sure that it was thanks to him that neither of us had realized Agata was there.  “You should let Agata finish what she started,” Yoweri said, and I could see how angry he was at Jeong for threatening me.

“Agata still sees things in black and white, she doesn’t understand their reasoning to act.  If I let her go after Jeong, she won’t stop until she kills every member of the Committee.”

“You knew we had sent her after you?”

“Of course I knew, I know more than you think.  But like I tried to explain Agata, I don’t blame you for trying, in your place I would had done the same.  Of course, I would have done it in person, and I wouldn’t have failed, but I get it.  There are a lot of things I am willing to forgive, but what you want to do with those recordings, I don’t think I would be able to forgive that.”

“That’s right,” Kimball said from the door, I could see Ivan and most of my trusted men behind him, I guessed Ivan had gone for him and let him know what was happening.  “You should be grateful for Kaiserin’s mercy and stop trying to mess with her.  Just think what would happen if she wasn’t here to stop Agata from going after you.  You and your friends know exactly what she is capable of, after all she had never failed a mission until she found Kaiserin.  If you publish the recordings you have from the vineyard, you won’t have to worry about Kaiserin going after you, Agata will be there first.”

“You have fooled us all along, it was all an act, right?”  Jeong accused Kimball.

“Things are not how they look like,” Kimball said.  “And if I were you, I would try to be more open minded, and would start working on having everything ready for this Friday’s coronation.  And I would especially avoid doing anything to harm Kaiserin.  I will be going over all communications, and if I, or my people, hear any rumors about what happened in that vineyard or Kaiserin’s past, I promise you, you won’t be able to hide from us.”

“I’m very disappointed in you,” Jeong told Kimball, “I always thought your only crime was to turn a blind eye to your wife’s crimes, but what you’ve done is way worse.  You are just like her.”

“You may think that’s insulting Jeong, but you couldn’t have paid me a better compliment.  Kaiserin is a great woman, and she has a lot of people behind her, willing to kill for her.”

“That’s enough,” I interrupted their discussion.  “Jeong, I know you want justice, but I can assure you, publishing the recordings won’t bring it to you.  You know what kind of people have tried to take the Dominion from me, you saw what my enemies are capable of.  You have to realize things could be way worse with them than they are with me.  Forget for a moment your vengeance and let me do my work.”

“Right now you are a valuable member of the Dominion,” Fatima’s voice reached us from behind Kimball, “but if you hurt Kaiserin you will have a lot of people after you.  All you have to do is wait a little longer, and you will see that things will get better, just don’t do something you will regret.”

“Worse men than you have tried to take her down and have lost, I think you should accept defeat and leave her alone,” Ivan added.

“This is not the end,” Jeong threatened, walking to the door, but despite his words I could feel his fear.

“On the contrary, your quest for vengeance will end right now,” Kimball said.

My people moved to give Jeong space to exit the room.  I could feel his desperation to leave the room, and I realized how much Agata’s presence had affected him.  One of the reasons they had chosen her was because of her terrible reputation, and I was sure he didn’t want her to go after him.

“Are you ok?” Kimball asked.

“No, I’m not ok.  I’m supposed to be stronger than this.  I shouldn’t be afraid of Jeong’s threats, I should be able to just ignore him.”

“I’m sorry,” Thalia said, stepping closer to us.  “This is all my fault.  When I talked to him I knew he was hiding something, but I believed him when he said he didn’t remember anything, I never thought he could have recordings.”

“No, it’s not your fault, this is something no one saw coming.  Luckily, with William here, we will be able to start cleaning this mess and make this a safe place so we can finally get the refugees out of Aquarium.  I’m sure once he gets his son back, he will forget all about his vengeance.”  I wasn’t sure if Thalia had read Jeong’s plans from his mind or if someone had told them what had happened, and I couldn’t help but feel humiliated than they had been reminded of my weakness during the battle in the vineyard, and that they had witnessed, once again, how easily affected I was by mere memories.  I knew that that kind of information in the wrong hands could be very harmful for me, because no matter how strong I tried to be, the experience of facing Agmong’s double had proved how easily I could revert to that person that I hated so much.

“I think you should take the rest of the day off,” Kimball suggested.

“For the moment, I need to deal with Agata and convince her not to act.”

“Do you need help?” Thalia asked, but even if I could feel her offer was sincere, I could also tell how scared she was of Agata’s power.

“No, it’s ok, I have it.”

After making sure that everything was ok, most of the group left, but a few stayed behind with me.  Yoweri and Thalia stayed inside, and I could feel at least a couple waiting outside the door.  As I was talking to Jeong, and then my people, I had been working on calming Agata, and after an hour of negotiations, I could finally convince her not to go after them.  At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder, had Sofia known what was going to happen?  Had she sent Agata to deal with that particular situation?

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Chapter 9

It was dark by the time I got out of the fog and I was hungry.  I was used to have something to eat waiting for me, but I wasn’t at the palace, and the guard that Kimball had left behind to take care of me wasn’t used to me and didn’t know my habits, it was my own fault for not thinking of ordering food or asking for something beforehand.

I checked the time and decided that food would have to wait, it was early enough that Mbali could still be awake, and I wanted to talk to her and see if she had any news from Kimball.  The call took a while to connect, but eventually I was able to talk to Mbali.

“It’s everything ok?” I asked as soon as he picked up.

“Everything went according to the plan.  Greca is great, I don’t think Kimball had trouble making her believe she had captured him, she put a good fight.  It’s been a while since she got him, I think they should be in their territory by now, he may be even working on saving Malkia by now.”

“So you haven’t had communication with him yet?”

“It’s still too soon for that, he has work to do first, but I expect to hear from him tomorrow.”

“Perfect.”  As time went by, the future where Malkia was alive was getting clearer and becoming the better possibility, I didn’t think I needed to go back to the fog, I knew she would survive, the only difference was how.  I just needed Kimball to know the risks he would be facing, especially from Ivy.  “When you talk to Kimball, tell him not to trust Ivy, if she starts acting weird, or if she gets involved in any way, then it’s time to get out of there.  His powers will catch Ivy’s attention, and that’s not a good thing, she will find the way to take advantage of him, no matter what Dendro or her son promised him.”

“Don’t worry, I will pass your message.  You already told him to be careful with her.  What’s her problem exactly?”

“She never liked me, and I’m sure she will find a way to make my life more difficult.  But, anyway, everything seems to be fine for now.  I will be here if you need anything, just keep me posted.”

“I will.”

We ended the call, and I felt better, even if I hadn’t gotten any new information or learned anything relevant about my daughter.  I decided I needed to find something to eat, and with the help of the guard we found the kitchen.  He apologized for not thinking of getting me something to eat, especially since he had gotten something to eat earlier.  He stayed by the door while I prepared something to eat, I just needed some sustenance, nothing fancy so I could keep my strength and calm my hunger, but my head was already moving on to more important things.

I started to go over my options as soon as I got back to my room.  Despite everything being under control, I felt uneasy, and after trying to find a good options, I decided it was best if I went to the astral planes for a while.  I wanted to try and get inside the Assassins’ territory.  I knew that they would have sentries, after all they were one of the most important clans in the Empire, but I could go higher, and lower than other people, and that would allow me to move undetected.

The distance I had to go was very large, and it was dangerous to go that far, but I didn’t care, I had an objective and no one would be able to stop me from going there.  The Imperialists and Assassins weren’t the only clans with sentries in the astral planes, so I moved to one of the upper planes so they wouldn’t see me.  Time and space were different in the astral planes, and reaching the Assassins’ territory didn’t take as long.

I started going down, looking for a good spot to get inside the territory, but the lower I moved, the more I felt something pulling me down, I knew I had enemies there and that I shouldn’t go there, but there was something about the pull that made me realize someone else was calling me.  I moved fast, crossing the planes as fast as I could.  I felt the pain and desperation and I saw a group of lower beings circling a figure that was becoming smaller and smaller.  I realized they were forcing her to move even lower through the planes, to where the demons and other strong creatures lived.

I thought I had warned you not to come here,‘ I told Malkia’s astral representation.

I wanted to go to the light, but I got lost,‘ she said.  It was clear she was at her limit and she needed help.

Follow me,‘ I told her, and I started moving up, but the lower plane beings noticed me and started moving around me.  I realized that Malkia was running low on energy and it was hard for her to escape.  ‘Keep moving, don’t stop, no matter what,” I warned, letting a little of my own energy out to attract the dark beings that feed on the energy of those that managed to move that further down.

I finally lost Malkia and realized she had moved up, so I did the same, moving to the next plane, but I dragged some of the dark beings with me.  I moved closer to Malkia and helped her move to the next plane, and the next until we arrived to the upper planes.

Thanks,‘ Malkia said, once we reached the second upper plane, a place of light and comfort.

I get it, you felt bad and were in pain, and that dragged you down, but you need to be more careful to avoid that.  Your body is suffering, and you need to mind to be strong or you won’t recover.  Being down there only makes the pain worse, because it takes away the energy you need to recover.

I won’t survive this anyway.  I’m really sick, I don’t think I will make it,‘ Malkia said, and I realized she had already gone over it, and decided she needed to make peace with the idea of dying.  ‘I’m glad that I had a last chance to see you.  If you ever have the chance, could you tell my sister how much I love her and that this wasn’t her fault?

Don’t worry Malkia, you will be fine.  You will feel bad for a few days, and it will take time to go back to your top condition, but you will live.

How can you be so sure?

Because I saw you.  Did I tell you I’m a Seer?  I can see your future and I know you will live a long life, a good life.  But you need to be more careful, what you did was incredibly irresponsible, you could have died.

So… you know what happened?’  I didn’t bother answering, I just stared at her.  ‘We got caught up in the moment, but it wasn’t the first time we kissed and I had never felt that bad afterwards.  Antrax thought I was getting immune to him.

You both should have known better.  You need to be careful, before doing something like that you need to make sure you will be fine.  And you need to understand that the Royal Family’s power is to consume and transform different venoms and toxins, besides, Antrax is a carrier, he doesn’t get sick, but can make others sick.  His system is constantly changing, you can’t become immune to him, you would need to be like him, capable of fighting everything he can give you.

Maybe you think I’m silly, or weak, but I can’t stay away from him.  I guess I will have to ask for a transfer, move away to avoid temptation.

Don’t worry, you may still be able to find a way to be together,‘ it all depended on Kimball, I knew he had the power to change her future, he could give her the power to be with Antrax, to keep exploring the attraction between them, and give them the chance to fall in love.  I knew that if Kimball managed to make her compatible to Antrax, she would be able to be considered as his partner.  Dendro had always resented the fact that his power limited his ability to decide who to be with, and I knew he resented being paired with Ivy, I knew that if Antrax had the option to choose, Dendro would support him.

Are you sure I will be fine?  I felt like my body was falling apart.

Just have faith, everything will be just fine,‘  I couldn’t add that she needed to trust Kimball, a man who loved her as if she was his own daughter.

I spent a while talking to Malkia in the astral planes, but I knew that I needed to return to my body eventually.  I decided I needed a good night of rest after the last few days, I needed to give my body time to recover from everything.  I was still hurt from my last battle and even if my body had been resting, my mind had been overactive, and that left me without energy.

I ended up getting up later than I intended, but I had to admit I had really needed that rest.  At least I woke up to find the guard had remembered to order breakfast, and I had a bowl of fruit waiting for me.  I had a lot going on in my mind, my daughter’s wellbeing my main concern, but I knew there was nothing I could do for her, she was in good hands.  I decided to call my allies and asked for a video conference for later, meanwhile I called Sofia.

“How is your daughter doing?” Sofia asked as soon as the call connected.

“Everything seems to be going just fine.  I’m expecting a full recovery.”

“Glad to hear that.  Fatima and I were working on tomorrow’s attack.  As far as we could see nothing of importance changed from the last we saw.  We expect tomorrow to be a success.”

“It’s good to see you kept working on that, I have been distracted.  I will be talking later with my men to see how is everything going.  I wanted to talk to you first because there’s something we need to talk about.  You know that once things calm down there are a few things we will need to change.  Some groups are getting restless, they think that now that I tasted power, I won’t be able to let it go.  The idea always was to make the transition as fast as possible, and I think the first step will be to give the crown to someone else.  You know I’ve been acting as the sole ruler, but it’s time to start introducing new players.  I only want to know if you are ready to take your old position.”

“You know I don’t want to go back, I think that William is the best choice to take the crown.  Besides, he is the heir, when his father died, he was supposed to take his place.”

“Maybe, but I’m worried that people won’t recognize him, if he just shows up now, people may think he is just a puppet I’m using to impersonate the real heir.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that, you didn’t get the chance to meet him, but William looks exactly as my son, people will recognize him.  Many people still remember my son as a symbol of the good times, I think having William will give them hope, they will symbolize the return to the good old times.  By seeing him, and thinking of his father, they will trust things to get better.”

“If what you say is true, then maybe it could work.  I do know he wants to get involved, he seems affected by the fact that he couldn’t participate in the battle for the Dominion after my hand was forced.”

“He is, but it’s a good lesson for him, things not always go according to plan.  I will talk to my son and prepare him for what’s coming.  Don’t worry, he will be better than his sister.”

“I really hope so.”

I trusted Sofia, so I had to follow her suggestion.  I had always considered William an important part of my plans, and I had worked with him during my visits to Aquarium to make sure he was a good man and that he was ready for the position, but things had changed and I preferred someone like Sofia by my side, not her son.  But I had to adapt.  I needed to focus on other, more pressing issues, so I prepared for my next reunion.

The screen started filling with the faces of my trusted allies, Fatima was in the control center, she was going to coordinate the activities for the different groups.  Ivan, who was in charge of the main group, was already in the field, just like Zhou and Matthew with the two support groups.  Thalia was in charge of the last group, the one who would make sure there were no loose ends, and that no one could escape the first groups.

“Thanks for agreeing to this meeting, I know how busy you are right now,” I greeted them.

“As always, we are ready to serve you,” Ivan said.  “So far, everything has been going according to plan.  The people we posted around the place has reported no changes, and if everything goes according to plan, we will take them down tonight, before they even have the chance to attack.”

“So they are still preparing to attack the palace?  No one has noticed I’m not there?”

“So far no group seems to have noticed that you left,” Thalia said, “but Representative Jeong might suspect.  He has been asking for you, since you asked for the Tech Committe to have a meeting with you, we think he is trying to talk to you about it, even if we had insisted he has to wait for the day of the meeting.”

“Thanks.  I know that me leaving put you in a difficult position.”

“Don’t worry, we have everything under control,” Matthew said.  “After all, family should always come first, none of us is going to question your need to help your family.”

“I know, and I’m grateful for that.  I couldn’t have done this without your support.  I am very thankful for your support, and your work.”

“Remember, we share the same objective,” Ivan said.  “We all want things to go back to how they used to be.  Things weren’t perfect before, but at least they were better.  The problems we had, were our problems, not caused by the whims of a couple of people, but by our own mistakes.  We will finally have the chance to rebuild our countries and recover our freedom.”

“We still have a lot of work to do before we can reach that point, but at least we have taken the first steps.  I wish you good luck in your mission, and I trust you to emerge victorious from it.”

After thanking them again for their help and making sure they had everything under control, I ended the call.  They didn’t have any new information for me, but at least I felt better after talking to them.

After a brief visit to the chief of the base, or more accurately, to the leader of the Shadows Clan, I went back to my room so I could make another astral walk.  I needed to make sure Malkia was ok if she was still there.  I knew it was unfair of me to ask her to go back to her body while it was hurt, but I needed to make sure she was anchored to her body, and keeping to the safer planes.

Chapter 8

We were walking through the fog, we had already taken a walk to the past, looking for the moment Faakhir had found out about my secrets, and trying to identify the people he had shared those secrets with.  After that we had moved forward, looking for new threats.  It was easy to walk the different paths because I had Fatima’s and Sofia’s help.  I was aware that I had made a mistake by dismissing the visions just because they didn’t make sense, thanks to Agmong’s presence, but it was an error I wouldn’t make again, I had to move forward after that.

We found out about a new attack, and we managed to get enough information about it to stop it, and a group of my men was already moving to stop it, and another group of my most trusted men were hunting the few of Faakhir’s loyalists that had escaped us during out first cleaning.  Everything was going according to plan, but it wasn’t enough, I had to make sure that the Dominion was safe and that nothing important was going to happen if I wanted to move forward with the rest of my plans.

I was walking one of the paths, going through the attack that we were trying to stop, making sure we had everything under control, but I suddenly found myself in another place, I walked into a sterile looking room.

I saw a bed, surrounded by machines, the setup was very similar to something I would likely find in a hospital, but it wasn’t exactly the same.  I moved closer, and noticed a person lying on the bed, it was a familiar face, even if it had been years since I had seen her.

“Malkia!” someone yelled, and I turned to see Greca running into the room, going straight to her sister, while Dendro and his son entered the room behind her.

“We are doing everything we can to help her, but for the moment all we can do is keep her stable,” Antrax, Dendro’s son explained.  Pain was showing in his face, despite his efforts to hide it. 

“How could this happen?” Greca asked. 

“We were working on a new project and something happened, she got poisoned, we are working with some serums, trying to counter the venom, but we haven’t found the right one,” he explained. 

“We have to start thinking in the possibility that she may not make it,” Dendro said, “according to Antrax, she had been like this for a while, and the damage on her body is already extensive.”

“No!  Don’t say that, my sister has to recover, you can’t let her die,” Greca was fighting to stay strong, but it was clear it was a battle she was losing. 

The scene changed and I found myself back in the fog.  I felt a familiar presence with me, but it wasn’t Fatima nor Sofia.

Melchizedek, what are you doing here?

I had a vision, and I knew I needed to help you,‘ Melchizedek explained.

Did you see the same thing I did?  It’s my Malkia…?‘ I couldn’t believe that was I had seen was real.  ‘That can’t be true, I have seen visions of my daughter as an adult, she can end like that.

You don’t have much time, if you want to save her, you need to move right now.

I will leave immediately,‘ I said.  I was still recovering from my injuries and I had been trying to rest, but my first priority, always, were my children.  I wouldn’t let Malkia down, no matter what it cost me.

It’s not you who needs to leave, you can’t help your daughter, but there is someone who can,‘  Melchizedek smiled.  ‘I’m sorry I don’t have more time, I just needed to let you know about this.  Good luck.

Melchizedek’s presence disappeared, and I realized I couldn’t feel Fatima nor Sofia near me.  I knew that I couldn’t waste time, so I left the fog.  I was alone when I got out of my trance, Fatima was in another room, and Sofia was back at Aquarium, so I had no idea if they were still in the fog or had gotten out, but that didn’t matter at the time, I needed to find Kimball.

I drank the glass of water someone had left beside the bed, and took one of the cookies there before going looking for Kimball.  I was trying to contact him with my comm while I ran through the halls.  He didn’t answer at first, but the call finally connected.

“Kaiserin?  What’s going on?” he asked.

“Where are you?”

“Right here,” he called from the other side of the hall, Ethan and Kimball were getting out of the gym, where they had been training until my call.

“Malkia is in danger,” I went straight to the point.  “I just had a vision, I don’t know the details, but she has been poisoned and the Assassins can’t help her.  Melchizedek said that I couldn’t help her either, but that you can save her.”

“Melchizedek?” Ethan asked.

“He was with me in the fog, he talked to me after I had the vision, he says we don’t have much time…”

“Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to her,” Kimball promised.

Ethan hugged me, and I realized I was shaking.  “Everything is going to be ok, don’t worry,” he said, trying to calm me down, with words, but also using his powers.

Kimball started to give orders through his comm, asking for his people to prepare one of the planes and making sure some of his trusted men were ready to go with him.

“Did you eat?” Kimball asked.

“A cookie,” I said.

“That’s not enough.  I will ask them to take a tray to your room, you can tell me all about your vision and anything else that we may need to know while we wait for it.  We need to make the most of the time we have.”

While we waited for our food, I told them everything I had seen, and everything Melchizedek had told me.  I knew that it wasn’t much, but I promised I would go into the fog again, and get more information.  My idea was to get into the fog as soon as the airplane took off, that way I would have something for them as soon as we landed.  The main thing was to get moving, Kimball was eager to leave while Ethan was uneasy about the whole situation.  He didn’t know his sisters, and I knew he had conflicting feelings about them, but he didn’t want them dead.

After eating, we starting packing our things.  I knew it wasn’t the right time for a trip, our enemies were planning an attack and I wasn’t completely recovered, and apparently Kimball was thinking the same.

“I think you should stay.  Melchizedek said that I was the one who needed to help Malkia, and you are in condition to be doing a trip like this.”

“And I think you need me to go with you, at least as support, it would be easier to get into Assassin’s territory with me by your side.”

“Not really, first of all, you are not completely recovered, and I don’t want you in a situation where you could be forced to fight and get hurt again, and second, I know you trust Dendro, but it only takes one of his men to call the Empire about you,” Kimball said, and I knew he was right, still I couldn’t stay and do nothing.

“Maybe I can stay out of the way, I only need to be close, and I could contact Dendro and let him know about you.”

“I would feel better knowing that you are safely behind,”  Kimball stopped working on his packing and moved in front of me.  “I don’t want to tell you what to do, if you really need to do this, all I can do is to ask you to stay out of the way, where you are safe.  You know what I’m capable of, and I will do all I can possibly do to save Malkia.  You can trust me, you can put her life in my hands and I will do my best not to let you down.  I love her as if she was mine, and you know that I would do anything for the people I love.”

“I trust you, I trusted you with Ethan’s life, and this is no different, but you have to understand, I left my daughters behind thinking I was doing what was best for them, but Greca was turned into a slave and almost died in that mine, and Dendro had to save Malkia, I wasn’t even there to help her.  And now is in trouble again and I can’t save her.  I failed them, my errors have hurt them, put them at risk.”

“You did what you thought was best, that’s all we can do.  I know that I had never been a fan of your decisions, because I would have loved to have them here with us, but I have to admit that that didn’t warranty that they would be fine.  Just look at Ethan, we have done our best, and still he had been forced into some bad situations.  There’s no way to know if things would have been better if they were with us, and there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

“Do you really think I should stay here?” I hated how weak my voice sounded, but one of my children was in danger, and knowing there was nothing I could do about it was pulling me apart.  Once again, I would have to stay behind and trust Kimball to save the day.

“I would feel better.  But maybe you could come with me to the Island, that way you would be closer, just in case.”

“I would like that,” he was making a compromise, and I would feel better going at least part of the way.

Time flew by, and soon everything was ready, I noticed that Mbali and Tau were part of the group that Kimball had selected, and that made me feel better about the whole thing, they would be able to help him with whatever he needed.

As soon as the plane was in the air, I went into trance.  I knew what I was looking for, and where to find it, I went directly for Malkia’s timeline and was glad to realize she wasn’t hurt yet, there was even a tiny chance she wouldn’t be poisoned, but looking at the different paths in front of her I realized that it was something that was going to happen sooner or later, because her problem was hormonal.  The attraction between Antrax and Malkia had grown stronger, and that made them throw caution to the air.  Antrax was poisonous, and he couldn’t be with her, but they both seemed to forget that fact.  I wanted to be angry at Antrax for putting her at risk, but it was clear that they both had their share of the blame.  It would have been easier to put the blame on him if it wasn’t for the way he cared about her, and the guilt that I saw in his face.

I saw the different scenarios playing, many paths had died after we had decided to help her, and I could see Kimball in all the futures.  I found the paths that looked longer, knowing that in those he had been able to save her, and started to look for clues of what could help bring those futures to reality.  I had to find just enough hints for him to make his own plan, I had to give him room to move, or it wouldn’t work.

By the time we arrived to the Island so they could take another plane, one easier to keep hidden from the Imperialists, I had enough information for Kimball to be able to save her.

“Everything is going to be ok, you have to trust me,” Kimball said before kissing me.  I could feel he was worried, but he also was confident he would be successful, and I did trust him.  Melchizedek was right, Kimball really was the right person for the job, and I knew he would do anything to save my daughter.

“I trust you, that’s not the issue.  Just be careful, your plan is very risky.  Now that you decided how to act, the paths had to have changed again, so I will go into the fog and look for more clues.  I will let you know about anything important.  I know that Ivy’s presence is going to complicate things,” my visions had shown me that we couldn’t let them know who Kimball really was, Ivy’s jealousy could put him and Malkia at risk, “but if I see that you are at risk at any moment, I will contact Dendro and find a way to help.”

“I expect nothing less from you,” he said, giving me another kiss, on the back of my hand.  “Everything is going to be ok,” he said again, but I wasn’t sure if the words were meant for me, or him.

I saw Kimball’s group getting into the plane, but I knew he was going to be by himself for most of the mission, he would get into enemy territory alone and would have to convince Dendro that he could help Malkia by himself.  I trusted that Dendro would do what was best, but I couldn’t help but worry.

The best thing I could do was to keep busy, so as soon as I had something to eat I went back into the fog.  I was wishing I could see Melchizedek, it was always better to have a guide, but even if he wasn’t there, I had a job to do, because no matter what, this was a mission we couldn’t fail.

Chapter 7

I was disoriented and my body was hurting when I woke up.  It took me a while to find my bearings, I couldn’t recognize the place I was at and my powers were blocked.  I was free, so I immediately activated the necklace so I could get my powers back, before starting to get the IV off of me, I wasn’t sure what they were giving me, but I knew that whatever it was it was affecting my mind.  I had no idea how I had ended in that place, but while I was trying to piece it together the door opened and a couple of nurses, followed by two guards, entered the room.  I immediately got into a defensive position, I couldn’t let them get to me, not while I was vulnerable.

“Kaiserin?  What are you doing?” a familiar voice asked.  I had been so focused on the nurses and guards that I didn’t notice Mbali as part of the group.

“Mbali?  What’s going on?”

“It’s alright Kaiserin, we are here to help you, you are hurt,” she explained.  I looked to the group and realized that the nurses had stopped moving, they looked uncertain, and a little afraid, then I realized the other two were part of my guard, and they were confused by my attitude.

“My powers…” I whined, my voice weak and a little afraid.

“You had a psychic headache, you were bleeding, so we had to put a suppressor on you to keep you from getting worse.  You do remember what happened, right?”

It took me a minute to remember, the memory of the impostor wearing Agmong’s face made me shiver, and then I remembered Kimball being hurt and I fell to the floor.  “Kimball, what happened to him?  Is he…?”

“My cousin is fine,” Mbali said, getting closer to me, while the others kept their distance, still unsure of how to act around me.  “Do you want to go see him?”

“Yes, please.”  I said immediately.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea to move her,” one of the nurses said, “she needs to rest, her injuries are not healed yet.  We need to put the IV back before the pain returns.”

“I don’t want drugs,” I said, “they make me feel bad.”

“You will feel worse without them, the pain…”

“I don’t care!” I yelled, angry.  “I can deal with a little pain, I can’t deal with a clouded mind.”  I felt as if I was moving in slow motion, my thought were cloudy.

“Don’t worry, everything will be fine,” Mbali told them, going to where I was and helping me up.

“At least let us bring a wheelchair.”

“No…” I started to say.

“It’s not necessary,” Mbali interrupted, “I will help her.”

Yoweri and Rasmus hadn’t moved since they first entered the room, but I could feel their anger, the aura they were emitting was oppressive and I knew how much damage they were capable of.  I couldn’t help but move away from them, I knew they wouldn’t hurt me, they were supposed to keep me safe.

With Mbali’s help I got out of the room, and was met with a group of people, Ivan moved towards me as soon as he saw me, and I couldn’t help but take a step back to keep away from him.  I saw his surprise and confusion at my reaction, and I didn’t miss the look he gave Mbali, as if he was asking for an explanation.  Soriya also moved forward, but slower, her attitude less menacing.

“How are you feeling?” Soriya respectfully asked.

“My mind is cloudy, I can’t think straight,” I confessed.

“It’s normal with the medicine they were giving you.  We did all we could to help, but some injuries take time, no matter what we do, and your body must be depleted, tired and most likely hurting.  You shouldn’t be out of your bed, and you shouldn’t stop the medicine.”

“I don’t want the medicine!  I want a clear mind!” I said strongly, and then I flinched, convinced that something bad was going to happen after I spoke my mind, but at the same time telling myself that it was my right to do just that, wasn’t I supposed to be in charge?  “Mbali, I want to see Kimball,” I asked, thinking that once I was by his side everything would be fine.

The guards standing along the hallway moved to the side, giving us a wide berth so we could walk by.  The aura around them was oppressive, and it was hard for me to hide my fear.  Kimball’s room was very close, and we finally moved inside, Mbali closing the door behind us, and leaving the others outside.  I felt my chest constrict when I saw Kimball lying still on a bed, surrounded by cables and dressings covering most of his body.  I left Mbali’s support so I could go to Kimball.  He didn’t look like the Kimball I knew, he didn’t look strong and powerful as usual, he looked vulnerable.

“One of the bullets broke his collarbone, another got into his bloodstream and caused an obstruction.  The bullets that were stopped by his uniform managed to cause many bruises and broke a few ribs, one of them punctured his lung.  He had surgery and all of that was fixed, doctors are confident he will have a full recovery, but for the moment he is under anesthesia,” Mbali explained.  “I’ll leave you alone.”

I pulled a chair closer to the bed and sat next to Kimball, I put my forehead next to his hand.  The necklace chose that moment to disable the suppressor, and despite the lingering headache I decided not to activate the suppressor again, I was confident enough that I would be able to keep my powers under control, besides, having access to them made me feel better.

I fell asleep, and the next time I woke up I realized that I was lying on the bed next to Kimball, and he was caressing my hair, while he spoke with someone else.  I lifted my head and found that Ethan was standing next to the bed, on the other side of Kimball.

“How are you feeling?” my son asked when he realized I was awake.

“Better than the first time I woke up,” I sincerely said, my mind was clear and even if my whole body was aching, it wasn’t something I hadn’t felt before.  “And how are you?” I asked Kimball, moving away from him, scared of hurting him.

“Much better, I will be as good as new in a couple of days,” he said, with a smile that made me believe in his words.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “it was all my fault.  If I hadn’t ignored the warnings, the visions…  I never thought something like that was possible.  I was careless, and that put you both in danger,” I felt sick just thinking about Ethan and Kimball near death’s door.

“We are not the only ones that had been in danger,” Kimball said, taking my hand and stroking the skin just under the marks on my wrists from the chains.

“I promise I won’t let something like this happen again, I won’t be taken by surprise again,” I wasn’t sure how I would keep that promise, but I would, I wasn’t going to go through the same pain again.  But first I needed to find who else Faakhir had shared my past with, I knew I wouldn’t be alright until all of them were gone, I wouldn’t be able to keep my sanity if someone else used the same tricks as Faakhir and Temur had used against me.  “How long has it been?” I asked.  “Do people know what happened at the vineyard?  We can’t let our enemies attack while we are vulnerable,” I panicked for a moment just thinking about it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to defend myself or my family.

“Don’t worry about that,” Ethan said.  “The official version is that you were attacked and you killed all your adversaries, also that my father was hurt, but only because his injuries couldn’t be hidden.  The rest of the people that were captured with you reported that they woke up surrounded by dead bodies.  The tree of pain caused quite an impression.”

“So they don’t know that they defeated me, they don’t know that those men…” for a moment I had trouble separating the memories of the real Agmong with those from the impostor.

“You killed them Kaiserin, I wouldn’t count that as a defeat.  You like to remind me that you have gone through worse, so you can’t let this affect you.”

“It’s just that I don’t know what I would do if they decide to attack now.  I can’t stand to go through that again, and I can’s stand to see you hurt again.”

“I know what you mean, watching them hurting you was more painful than the shots they fired at me.”

“No one is going to let something like that to happen to you again,” Ethan said.  “You have an army just outside the door that would give their life for you.  I had to close my empathy just to get to here, the people outside are so angry that it was difficult to even breathe.  They feel bad that they weren’t there for you, that they didn’t have a chance to avenge you, I’m sure that if they could, they would bring those men back from death and kill them all over again.”

My mind no longer clouded, I was able to remember and analyze what had happened when I had gotten out of my room, the atmosphere had been heavy and they had been furious, but what I hadn’t realized was that that fury wasn’t directed at me, they had been angry that I had been hurt.  It was still hard for me to understand that they could be worried about me.  I had accepted that Kimball cared about me, just like I cared about him, but experience had taught me that most people would take advantage of my weakness, not feel protective about it.  I knew that Ethan was right, those people outside had come together for a common goal, but along the way I had earned their trust, respect and even their affection, I wasn’t blind, I knew some of them even loved me, and not the dangerous kind that wanted to hurt and possess, but the platonic, pure kind of love.

“It’s time to get back to work, I need to be prepared to avoid our enemies to surprise us again.  I’ll find the way to get ahead of them.”

“First, you need to recover.  I’m sure that Soriya and her team of healers are desperate to keep working on your injuries,” Kimball said.  “I asked for them to bring another bed so you can stay with me.  Why don’t you go look for Soriya?”  Kimball asked Ethan.  “I’m sure that even if your mother won’t admit it, she could use the help.”

“Of course, I’ll be right back,” Ethan said, running out of the room before I could say anything.

“Ethan shouldn’t have to see this, it can’t be easy for him to see both his parents hurt.  And I have to say, you look terrible, even with all the help you had to accelerate your recovery.”

“Now that my mind is clear and my powers under control, I don’t feel so bad,” I could still feel every mark on my bod, and I didn’t want to even imagine how my back looked, most of the damage was there, but I knew that wasn’t important, I had learned how to deal with pain a long time ago.  I hated the idea of looking at that kind of scars on the mirror, again, but I trusted that the doctors and healers would be able to help me to minimize them, even make them completely disappear.  “Right now I’m more worried about the people outside, I don’t know how I will be able to face them again.  Ethan is right about them caring about me, but they just saw me at my worst, how can I expect them to respect me after that?”

“You are the only one that thinks like that.  You see someone that have been bested by her enemies, you see yourself defeated, but they see a woman that got through something that would have broken most people and managed to kill her enemies.  You are letting your fear blind you from what’s in front of you.”

“I’m afraid that what happened will change their opinion of me, I’m afraid they won’t respect me anymore, that they won’t follow me or they will think they can control me.”

“How’s your headache?” Kimball asked, changing the topic so suddenly that I was confused at first.

“It’s not completely gone, it still hurts a little, but is manageable enough so I can use my powers.  For the moment is better if I don’t use them unless it’s an emergency, so I won’t make it worse again.”

“It’s not an emergency, but you should use a little of empathy or maybe a bit of telepathy to see what’s on the other side of the door.  Maybe once you can see for yourself that they don’t see you any different, at least now different as you expect, you will be more at ease.”

I knew that most of the problem were my own insecurities, awakened by the trauma I had just gone through.  I was trapped by my own fears, and I was afraid to listen to Kimball and find something I didn’t want.  Just as I was thinking about it the door opened and I saw most of my men outside the door, guarding my room, making sure I was safe.  I extended my senses, like Kimball had suggested, and couldn’t believe what I found, I expected pity, but found admiration, I expected disgust, but found respect.  I made a signal to Ivan so he would come closer, and I could feel how they all relaxed, as if that simple act proved that I was ok.

Ivan came into the room just behind Ethan, Soriya, and a couple of healers, behind Ivan were another couple of people pushing another hospital bed that they started setting just beside Kimball’s.  Soriya and her healers went to my side, but Ivan kept his distance, I could see weariness on his face, and my powers let me know that he was worried and doing his best not to make me uncomfortable.

“How are you feeling?”  Soriya asked me.

“I’m sore, but much better overall,” I said sincerely, but from her frown and the look she exchanged with the other healers, I guessed she didn’t believe me.

“We would like to take a look if that’s ok with you, we want to speed up the healing and try to get rid of the scars.  We would like to start with your back.”

“That’s ok,” I said.

I got out of bed and went to a stool that was there, knowing that it would give them better access to my injuries.  The gown I was using was tied at the back, so it would be easy for them to have access to my back.  Soriya was the one who untied it, and then she put her hands on my shoulder, I could feel how affected she was by the trembling in her hands.  Another hand touched the base of my neck and the other healer put his hands on my other shoulder.  As soon as they started working, I felt heat and tickling on my back, and I knew the healing process was going well.  I could see that Ivan was trying to avoid looking at me, and I saw his hands curled into fists.

“You can see it, don’t you?”  Ethan asked, he was sitting on the floor next to me, resting gently against my legs, but being careful not to hurt me.  ‘Watching you hurt is hurting him,‘ he said to my mind.  ‘We all worry about you, we all want you to be ok.’  I knew what he was talking about, I could feel how affected Soriya was, how angry Ivan was, and not at me, but at himself for not being able to spare me the hurt.

“Ivan,” I called him, and he looked at me for the first time, letting me see the guilt in his eyes, “I missed a lot, I need you to tell me what happened.  How is everyone?”  I had forgotten about Temur’s threats with all that had happened, but I suddenly remembered how he had said he would kill everyone who had helped me seize control of the Dominion.

“We lost many people in the initial attack, no one from our group,” he quickly assured me, “mostly soldiers that we had taken along for protection.  Franz was the one who was injured worst, but Soriya was there and was able to help him, there won’t be any permanent damage for him.”  I put my hand over Soriya’s in a silent thank you for her help, hoping she would understand the gesture.  “Our men, Franz, Lukas, Tatyana, Nasim, Soriya, Kebe and Yoweri were able to fight back and stop the rest of the mercenaries at the vineyard.  By the time they broke into the cellar you had already taken care of the enemies inside, and Temur was in one of your constructions, he didn’t survive long after their arrival.”

“He should have lasted longer, he didn’t suffer enough,” Kimball said, and I could tell that Ivan agreed with him.

“So there were no survivors from my attack.  What about the rest of the people there?”

“Well, the rest of us arrived as fast as we could.  Thalia and her group of telepaths worked on the other captives in the cellar, making sure none of them were involved with the attack, and as per Kimball’s instructions, making sure none of them remembered what had happened inside the room.  As far as we could find, none of them knew about the attack, and we managed to capture the rest of Temur’s people.  Thalia and Fatima were in charge of questioning the rest of the mercenaries, and they kept them alive and isolated, in case you wanted to conduct your own interrogation.”

“That’s perfect, you seem to have everything under control,” I made a signal to the healers and stood up.  “I will need at least another day of rest, but I want you to have everything ready for me to go meet with the mercenaries tomorrow, I want to see if I can find more information on Temur and his partners.”  I went and opened the door, letting Ivan know it was time for him to leave.  “I will need Fatima, we have a lot of work to do, we need to start working on getting ahead of our enemies, we can’t allow what happened at the vineyard, or the school, to happen again.”

“We won’t let them hurt you again,” Rasmus assured me from outside the door, he roared his promise.  The rest of the people outside let me know they agreed with the sentiment.  Almost all of the guards that had helped me take over the Dominion were outside the door.

“I’m ok, I swear, I’ll be just fine.  I’m grateful for your support and I assure you I will be as good as new in no time, and this will only be a bad memory.”

“I don’t think I will be able to forget what happened,” Yoweri said, falling to his knees in front of me.  “I failed you, I’m supposed to keep you safe and I couldn’t do it.  You have no idea how bad I feel about it.”

“I don’t blame you for what happened, so you don’t have to, either.  You did a great job staying alive and fighting back, getting help and stopping our enemies, you even got me out of that place.  What happened is already in the past, we only have to worry about the future and about making sure our enemies don’t take us by surprise again.”

I extended my senses, and was able to confirm yet again that Kimball’s and Ethan’s words were true, I could feel that the people there cared about me.  They were willing to risk their own lives for me, and yet, part of my mind couldn’t let me forget that I had met people like that before, and that hadn’t stopped them from betraying me.  I liked to know that I could trust those people, that they were willing to keep me safe, but I couldn’t forget that I had to stay alert, because people could change in a second.

I left my guards outside and went back to the room, to where my family was waiting for me, and the healers were ready to keep working.  For the time being my first priority was to recover, I could worry about everything else later.

Chapter 6

I felt like I was losing my mind, they kept calling me Sklave, and that was messing with my perception, I felt like a was losing the battle with myself and I was becoming Sklave again.  As I watched Kimball fighting them, trying to free himself so he could help me, new tears started rolling down my face, I knew he was fighting that hard because of me, he wanted to help me, and he didn’t want them using him to control me, but every time he moved, a new shot hit his body.  I opened my mouth to ask them to stop, but I couldn’t get the words out, part of me was stopping me.  As Kaiserin, I never cried, I never begged, but as Sklave I never had any problem with any of that, I had spent all my time as Sklave begging for mercy that never came, I had no problem humiliating myself, and at that moment I wanted to be like that and do whatever it took to save Kimball, I wanted to help him, even if I had to be Sklave to do that.

“Don’t do it,” Kimball said, maybe noticing that I was about to give them what they wanted.  “Don’t let them win.”

They were hitting him again for talking, but I was brought back by his words, he was right.  I knew that at the moment they got what they wanted, Kimball wouln’t be useful to them anymore, they would have the control.  Another shot hit Kimball’s chest, and my thought scattered again.  I knew that his uniform was bullet proof, but the shots were too close, and they had to be doing a lot of damage, I guessed he had at least a few broken ribs because of the hits.

“I’m not a patient man, Sklave.  Are you going to beg me?  Or do you want me to kill him?”

“Don’t…” I didn’t know what to do or how to act, I was breaking and I wasn’t sure what would become of me.  I didn’t want to go back to being the pathetic, weak, woman that Agmong had created all those years before, but I felt more like her every minute.

“I love your tears,” the impostor said, he was licking them, while he grabbed me by the hair, it was such a familiar feel, and I wasn’t surprised when a new electric charge hit me, it was a familiar feeling, one that sent me back in time, that send me deep into my memories.

I felt weak, I was under my enemies’ power, and my life, my Kimball was on his knees, suffering because of me, about to die.  My mind was breaking and I couldn’t stop it.  Nightmares and reality were blending together and I knew I would break and never be the same, I was about to lose the battle.

I opened my mouth again, I was about to tell them I was giving up, that I would do whatever they wanted, but then I felt the broken pieces fixing themselves, the emptiness inside me was filling fast, my powers were back.  Kimball had saved me again, his gift had freed my powers, giving me a fighting chance, giving me hope and the chance of recovering.

The first thing I did, I connected to the weapons they were using, I knew the firearms they were using, and it was easy to disable them.  I knew that wasn’t the solution, but it would help Kimball and give him a chance, I trusted that without the weapons he would have a chance to fight back, just like I did.  With the weapons out of the way, I focused on the man next to me, his hand was still grabbing me hair, exposing my neck so he could bite me, while he was digging on the wounds on my back with his other hand, causing new waves of pain shake my body.

“Do you know what happened to the real Agmong?” I asked him.  “He bleed to death, I nailed him to the wall and watched as the light died on his eyes, I watched as he fought for his life, until the realized there was no way out, I watched as he realized he was going to die at my hands, and that for the first and last time in his life, he was at my mercy.  You will die the same way.”

The damage done to my body affected my powers, but that didn’t stop me from pulling a few stakes from the nearest wall and pushing the impostor to them.  One stake pierced his lung, but I was careful not to touch his heart, I wanted his death to be slow and painful.  Another one went through his stomach, that was a mortal wound, unless he got help in the next few minutes, the rest of the stakes got him through legs and arms, pinning him to the wall and stopping him from escaping.  Almost as soon as I finished, the terrakinetic started working on reverting my work, freeing the impostor, but the damage was done, his face was already morphing back to his original features, like every metamorph, he was going to die with his original face.  I watched the face they had brought back from my nightmares melt and disappear.

“Don’t stand there like fools, stop her!” Temur ordered, thinking they still had a chance of stopping me, but it was too late, the pain and rage inside me were fueling my need of vengeance.

I used my powers to connect to the chains holding me, and extended my power to reach the chains they had used to subdue Kimball, who was already fighting the soldiers that had attacked him.  I could see his movements were slow and a little off, I wasn’t sure if he was still suffering the effects of whatever drug they had used on him, or if he was injured worse than I thought.  I took the chains and wrapped them around the soldiers’ necks, and then I used them to hang them from beams in the ceiling, but some of them were psychics, and they were trying to use their powers to free themselves.  I knew that pain would make it harder for them to concentrate hard enough to use their powers, so I broke their legs, and then their arms to distract them, and when the attacks stopped, I knew I had been right.  Some of them were too busy trying to escape, but using their broken bones made it more difficult.  The screams and grunts from the soldiers hanging from the ceiling were mixed with the terrified screams of the rest of the hostages, that I’m sure thought they were next.

There was just one person still standing, and that was Temur.  There was no one else stopping me from going after him, my true target.  He had tried to take Kimball as a shield, but even tired and slow, Kimball was capable of fighting back, and was not an easy target.

“Finish him,” Kimball asked, but not because he wanted him dead, but because he knew I needed to kill him so I could feel like myself again, and not like a victim.

“I told you, you were a dead man from the moment you decided to come after me,” I told him.  Temur tried to attack me, and I knew that I had to stop him before he had a chance of to reach me, I was still vulnerable, hanging from the ceiling, my body was useless, and my powers were the only thing allowing me to fight back, powers that were fueled by my hate, rage, and even my fear.

Temur went to where the impostor was, he didn’t look like Agmong anymore, he was wearing his true face, and clearly fighting to stay alive, maybe thinking someone would come to help him.  He stretched his hand to Temur, asking for help, but Temur didn’t waste any time thinking about his dying ally, he grabbed the gloves out of his hands, the gloves I already suspected were producing the electricity he had used to mimic Agmong’s powers, a power I wasn’t going to allow him to use on me again.  Before Temur had a chance to reach me, I used my powers to build a stake that hit him in the chest, with so much force that he was lifted in the air, before he could move or escape, another one hit him from the back, holding him in place, I used my powers to break the stakes and build branches, that went through his body.  He tried to scream, and one of the branches got out of his throat, killing the scream.  It wasn’t my best job, it was a very basic and raw tree of pain, it wasn’t like the one I had used on Faakhir when I was strong enough to take care not to touch his vitals, this one was doing much more damage, and I knew his death was going to be faster, but I couldn’t focus enough to take care where the branches were getting out, I was just making the tree grow.

“Kaiserin?”  Kimball was crawling to where I was, but he fell before reaching me.

I needed to get to him, but first I needed to get down.  I used my mind to open the cuffs around my wrists.  I hadn’t been that high, just high enough for my feet not to be able to touch the ground, but the fall shook my body and sent waves of pain through my body.  My legs weren’t strong enough to hold me and I fell hard to my knees.  My legs and even my arms were covered in welts, some of them bleeding, thanks to the whipping, and I could see a large bruise on my side from the kicks and even if I couldn’t see my face, I knew it was bad, I could hardly open one of my eyes, it was so swollen, and I didn’t even want to think about my back, it felt so raw and hurt so much.  I tried to move my arms, and couldn’t, every time I tried the pain was so bad that I felt like I would pass out.

I used my powers to move Kimball closer to me, taking care not to hurt him, and as soon as he was close enough, he put his arms around me, taking care not to hurt me.

“Kaiserin, I’m so sorry… I failed you, I couldn’t help you…”  I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell he was crying.

“I was able to escape thanks to you, your gift saved me again.”  Using the contact with Kimball I connected to him to try and see the extent of the damage he had sustained, and I realized he was worse than I thought, at least three bullets had managed to get inside him, and I didn’t even need my powers to tell that his lungs were damaged, his breathing was both shallow and hard.

I was already suffering the effects of a psychic headache, and the pain was increasing faster than normal, and I realized I was under attack, again, one of the soldiers had to be a telepath, a strong one if he could get over the pain and attack me.  I tried to move and look for the person responsible for the attack, and I found the faces of the other hostages staring at me with fear, and worse, with pity.  I hadn’t realized the implications of them being there, but I didn’t want them witnessing my humiliation.  But first, I needed to find my attacker, which was easy.  I let his chains go, and he fell to the ground, I dragged him closer to me, and he tried to attack me, but Kimball found the strength to fight him.  While Kimball was holding him still and punching him, I used my powers to move my hand until it rested on him, and I used my powers to steal his energy.  I was so weak and hungry that I was able to drain him in a couple of minutes.  Once I finished him, I felt stronger, so I repeated my actions and pulled the rest of the soldiers to me, so I could drain them too.  It was actually a mercy, a quick death that they didn’t deserve, but I needed their energy more than revenge.

There were seven soldiers, without counting the impostor and Temur, and I was able to drain them all.  Kimball was by my side, struggling to stay conscious so he could protect me.  I used the energy I had stolen and focused on the other hostages, I couldn’t let them keep their memories of me at my lowest.  Killing them to protect my secret was unfair, but there was another choice, and I knew how to deal with them, thanks to my father I knew exactly how memories worked.  I knew that a big trauma would be enough to erase their memory of the last few minutes, with the adrenaline and the impact of the situation, I was sure none of them had had time to store the memories in the long term part of the brain, and a trauma would erase them before they had the chance.  I gathered my powers and went inside their minds, letting the attack go and burning their minds.  The last attack was too strong and too painful and I lost the battle with the darkness, I passed out.

“Kaiserin, Kaiserin!” Kimball’s voice was reaching me from far away, he sounded scared, worried, and all I wanted to do was to calm him and tell him everything was going to be ok.

“Kimball…”  I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids were too heavy.

“Please, just hold on,” Kimball said, but he sounded as bad as I felt.  I remembered where we were, and why.  The rest of the hostages had also passed out because of my last attack, and our enemies were either dead or dying.  I finally managed to open my eyes and I saw Kimball, he looked bad.  I took what was left of the energy I had stolen and gave it to him, he needed it more than me.  “What are you doing?”  he asked, he was feeling the energy and knew exactly what I was doing.

I started shaking, and I felt my nose bleeding.  The psychic headache was hurting too much, but we still had to get out of that place, we needed to escape.  Kimball would have to do it, because I couldn’t go on, I was at my limit, and I couldn’t hold on, I passed out again.

I woke up screaming, my shoulder felt on fire.

“I’m sorry,” Kimball said, his voice was weak and his breathing was getting worse.  “I needed to fix your shoulder, I still need to work on the other one,” he warned.  After the pain faded a little I realized I could move my arm again, but then Kimball grabbed my other shoulder, and when he pulled I passed out again.

I was surrounded by shadows, I was cold and was feeling those dark beings touching me and stealing the heat I had left, they were making me sick.  I felt like I needed to be somewhere else, but I didn’t know where, I just knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, and I wanted to get away.  I felt something pulling at me, and I found myself being pulled out of there.

“Kaiserin,” someone was calling my name.  Everything was hurting, my body was on fire and my head felt as if it was going to break in two.  “Kaiserin, we need to get out of here,” but that wasn’t possible, I couldn’t move, I was in too much pain.  “Kaiserin,” it took me a moment to identify the person calling me.  It was Kimball, my Kimball, my life, my love.  How could I forget him even for a moment?

I still couldn’t believe what they had done, they had brought my nightmares to life, and it was thanks to Kimball that I was holding on, I knew that without him I would have lost contact with reality and I wouldn’t be able to differentiate between nightmares and reality.  I could feel his arms around me, he was being careful because of my injuries.

“I just need a minute,” I asked, but my words sounded false even to my own ears.

“You need to activate the suppressor,” he said, “you are losing control, and the pain is only going to get worse, I can’t lose you because of a psychic headache,” he explained, but the idea of being without my powers again scared me.

“I’m scared,” I confessed.  I felt like something bad was going to happen, but then I realized why he was so worried, the floor was vibrating with my power, and I realized my powers were out of control, I was about to get into a destructive spiral, but even then, the idea of being powerless made me hesitate.  “Please, don’t let anyone hurt me,” I asked, even knowing that Kimball was also hurt.  I managed to get my hand on my necklace, Kimball’s gift, and used it to save me again, not by freeing my powers, but by suppressing them.

An explosion shook the cellar, and a moment later I heard people running inside.  I hugged Kimball and hid on his side.  I heard voices, some of them sounded angry, others surprised, and at first I couldn’t even understand what they were saying, but I wasn’t paying that much attention, I was at my limit and afraid, because I was powerless.  I thought about disabling the suppressor so I could fight, I could at least save Kimball.

“Is she alive?” the voice sounded familiar, and there was pain in his question.

“Kaiserin, it’s ok, help just arrived,” Kimball said, and tried to move to see who had arrived, but it took too much effort, and I couldn’t move that much.

“Kaiserin?” another familiar voice, that one close to me, too close and I couldn’t protect myself.  I wanted to believe Kimball would protect me, that if he said I was safe, then I was, but when I felt a hand on my leg I did my best to move away from the touch.

“Don’t let them hurt me,” I asked Kimball, and I heard a weird sound, like a sob, and someone started cussing, I wasn’t sure why.

“They are here to help, not hurt you.  Let Soriya help, she can heal you,” Kimball explained.

“I don’t need her help, I will be fine, I just need to rest and I will be fine.  You need help, you are hurt, my fault, you were hurt because of me,”  I felt the hand back on my leg, and I tried to get away again.  I was able to turn enough to see the woman, and I realized she was crying.

“It’s ok, let me help.”

“I’ll be fine, help Kimball.  I don’t want him to die, not because of me, I will be fine, I just need to rest,” I tried to let Kimball go, I wanted to give them space so they could help him, I had finally recognized them, and I knew I could trust them, they wouldn’t hurt me, they had sworn to protect me, and the best way to help me was by helping Kimball.  “I just need to close my eyes for a minute, save Kimball, I will be fine, I will be ok…”  I went back to the astral plane where there was no pain.  I knew what I was doing, I needed to go up.  In the superior astral planes I could find peace, I could recover.

Chapter 5

“You don’t have to come with me,” I told Kimball again.

“You’re still at war with the Tech Committee and now you are going to also face the Agriculture Committee, which only makes everything more complicated, since I don’t trust either group, I’ll go with you.”  I could see he was concerned, and I didn’t want to tell him I was worried too, nor how relieved I was that he was coming with me, but as always, I was sure he suspected something.

I’ve been having a bad feeling about the reunion for days, and I knew better than to ignore my instincts, but every time I had tried to use my visions or take a walk in the fog to see what was triggering my instincts, all I could see was the past, I was thrown into memories of Agmong.  I knew that couldn’t be right, Agmong was dead, I had killed him and there was no way he could come back and torment me like that.

“Everything will be ok,” I told Kimball, wondering if he could hear the doubt in my voice, “there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Why is the reunion taking place in the vineyards?  It’s not the kind of place you usually like.”

“This was one of Emily’s favorite places, you know she thought herself a wine connoisseur, and she had a weird attachment to the place.  When all the problems with the food supply started, she decided that this place was more important to keep afloat than the others.  I want to see what was done here to keep the place producing a high quality harvest, I want to find something that will help others to be as successful.  We need to work on the food supply asap, between the droughts, fires, war and Emily’s impossible requests, half the Dominion is our of food, and if we don’t do something fast, people will start dying.”

“I’m not sure if this is the right approach.”

“I saw some of the designs that Faakhir vetoed from the Tech Committee, and I think some of them could be adapted to help with this issue, if they work along the Agriculture Committee, I’m sure they will find a solution to our problem.”

“We’ll see,” Kimball said, not convinced.  I knew that it wasn’t how things were usually done in the Dominion, but it was how things were done in the Empire, and the only way I knew.  “How are we going to play it this time?”

“The same way we have been playing, we will be two people who can barely stand each other.”

“Of course, I guess I will pretend to be mad at you for almost letting our son die.  You know that some of the people there were calling me on behalf of their children to ask about Ethan’s wellbeing.”

“I’m glad to know that Ethan has such good friends.  I only hope that what happened won’t affect their friendship.”

Our talk was cut when we arrived at our destination.  I got out of the vehicle without waiting for Kimball, but I heard him following me.  Everyone was already there, mostly because I had asked them to be there an hour before my arrival.  By the time we arrived some of them were already angry, but there was nothing they could do about it.

“Thank you for coming,” I greeted the people there.

“I didn’t know it was optional,” one of them said.

“It wasn’t,” I answered.

“Welcome to my humble vineyard,” the owner of the place greeted me.  I knew he wasn’t a fan of my predecessors, they had practically taken over his life and his vineyard, but in a way he should be relieved that that attention had allowed him to prosper when others failed, saving his land while others had to fight droughts and lack of foundings.  There were a few other places in the Dominion with a better reputation and with centuries of prestige, and they had also received some support, but this one was closer and that made it easier for it to gather Emily’s attention.  “Would you like a tour of the place?  We have everything ready if you want to know what we do here.”

“Of course, that’s why we are here,” I said, trying to appear a little bored, but dying to start the tour and learn what made that place different from others.

The start of the visit was a little chaotic, because the group was too large, but the place was interesting and soon everyone was focused on the tour, learning about the process and learning how they used a combination of classic and modern techniques to keep the harvest healthy and plentiful.

Once we were done with the tour and with a cup of wine in our hands, we were taken to the dinning hall where we were given a simple, but bountiful banquet.  I knew that they were presenting us with was probably most of what they had, but I kept thinking that it was ok, if everything went according to plan, we would have more than enough food for everyone, not just for a few lucky ones.

“It was a very nice and interesting tour, but I would like to know why we were brought here, this is not exactly our area of expertise,” Representative Burgos said.

“You are here because I want you here, I wanted to get to know this place better, to see why it was so interesting for my predecessors.  I also want you to tell me about the projects that Faakhir vetoed from you.”

“That is a long list,” Jeong said.

“Then, I would suggest you start with the first thing that comes to your mind,” I said, expecting them to bring up those that were related to the place we were at, I wanted sustainability projects.

While they discussed among themselves, trying to decide which project to expose first, a group of servers presented us with trays with cheeses and cold meat cuts, to go along with our wines.  After a while I noticed something odd was going on, the air looked funny and I didn’t feel well.  I put my psychic walls up, and started to search for the threat that I knew was lurking.  I noticed that the others have finally noticed that something was going on, and Kimball got out of his seat, and tried to move, but his movements were too slow, when I tried to move, I noticed that my arms and legs were too heavy and I couldn’t move them.

A group of warriors wearing gas masks entered the room, Kimball tried to attack them, but one of them faced him and stopped him, using a taser.  I used my powers to throw them against the wall, but my attack wasn’t as strong as it was supposed to be, and it failed to do much damage.  I felt darkness trying to pull me down, but I fought it as I watched the rest of the people at the table falling down on the table.  I was doing my best to stay conscious, and I felt someone approaching me from behind, I turned to face the threat, and found myself face to face with Agmong.  I was frozen, thinking it had to be an illusion, but then he used his whip on me and it wrapped around me before blasting me with electricity, making me lose the battle and fall into unconsciousness.

I woke up when I was hit with a bucket of cold water, it took me just a second to realize that I couldn’t use my powers, and the weight on my neck let me know that they had used a powers suppressor on me.  I looked around, and realized we were on one of the wine cellars, all of the guests were there, chained to the walls or the wine barrels.  Kimball was wrapped in chains that were locked to the ground and walls, and looked unconscious.

“I’m glad you woke up already,” a man I recognized as Temur, one of Faakhir’s trusted guards, said to me.  “Now that you are awake, we can start this party.”

“I’m surprised to find you here, since you ran away after I killed Faakhir, I thought you would stay hidden,” I stood up, surprised to find myself free.  Temur was thinking that I wasn’t a threat just because I didn’t have my powers, I was determined to prove him wrong.

“I had to go away for a while, to look for some friends, but I hope you are not stupid enough to think you would get away with killing Faakhir and keeping the Dominion for yourself.”

“I already have control of the Dominion, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Whatever you are planning, it won’t work.”

“My plans are already working, everything is going according to plan,” he said, “your men are being hunted right now, and they will pay for betraying our boss, none of you will get away with it, I will make sure to have all of the survivors under my control.”

“You are crazy if you think that will work, I don’t follow anyone’s orders, you know that, and you know what happened to the last man that thought he had me under his control.”

“All you need is someone to remind you of your place,” he said with an unnerving smile.  I knew that all I needed was to wait for Kimball’s necklace to do his job and disable the suppressor, I just needed to distract Temur for a few minutes.

“You are a dead man, I hope you know that.  You will share your boss’ end.”

“Soon the Dominion will be mine, and you will give it to me yourself.”

“You are really crazy if you think I will do that,” I was ready to fight, I knew Temur and he was even worse than Faakhir, he was a sadist, and I was sure that the only reason he hadn’t killed me was because he wanted to make me suffer first.

“You will do whatever I want you to do, all you need is someone to remind you of your place… Sklave.”  He knew that using that name was going to throw me off.

“My name is Kaiserin, you know that.”

Temur signaled his men and saw a few moving my way, I stood still, waiting for the right moment, and once they were close enough I attacked.  I was able to get one of them by surprise, breaking his neck before he had a chance to react, but another kicked my legs from under me, throwing me to the floor.  As soon as I hit the ground I rolled and tried to get up, but the ground under me moved, trapping my foot, my leg up to my knee, and both my hands.  Another soldier started kicking my stomach, and even my head a couple of times while another stood still in front of me, manipulating the ground and keeping me trapped.  I tried to break free, but the ground wasn’t giving me any space.  When the guy got tired of kicking me, he grabbed one of my arms with a strength that almost broke it, then one of my hands was free, but the guy put a cuff around it before I could do anything to stop him, and then he did the same with the other, chaining them together behind my back.  Once they were secured, they attacked a chain hanging from the ceiling to them and started to pull, when they couldn’t pull more, they finally freed my legs.

“You should know that there’s no point in trying to resist, Sklave,” Temur mocked me.  “Doesn’t this situation reminds you of something?”

“I don’t know what your game is, but if you think you will win this easily, you are mistaken,” I felt my arms being raised, the chain being pulled even more, I felt the tension in my shoulders when my feet were no longer touching the ground, and I knew that my shoulders were about to pop out.  Agmong used to love hanging me from the ceiling, most of the time with my arms behind my back, my weight eventually dislocating my shoulders, it was a slow and painful torture, but as time went by, the process was easier, my shoulders so damaged that they popped out very easily.  Just as I expected, the sound of my shoulders getting out of their sockets echoed in the cellar.  Waves of pain hit my body, caressing me like a forgotten memory.  It was very hard, but I bit back the scream that tried to escape my throat, and looked defiantly at Temur, knowing he was expecting my pain, and refusing to giving it to him.

“It wasn’t what I was expecting, you are not doing your part,” he said, angry at me.

“Don’t worry, I will help her remember her role,” a familiar voice said from behind me.  “Come on, Sklave, scream for me,” I felt a hand on the back of my neck, and then an electric charge hit me.

I felt like I was going to break my teeth with the force I used to shut my mouth and stop the screaming that wanted to escape, I refused to give in to them.  My already hurting arms were on fire as my body shook with the electricity.  I was exhausted by the time the attack stopped, but I knew things were about to get even worse.  The man behind me moved to the front, and it took me a moment to understand what I was seeing.

“Did you miss me, Sklave?” asked a man that looked exactly like Agmong.

I had ignored the warning and the vision, thinking there was something wrong with them, because there was no way that what they were showing was accurate, Agmong couldn’t be back to torture me, he was dead, I had killed him, I have watched the life get out of him.  I felt cold and scared, because if Agmong, or someone looking like him, was in front of me, then all the visions of torture were true, and I was about to get into a nightmare.

“You are not Agmong,” I said.

“I missed you,” he said.  He moved closer to me, and as soon as he was in my reach, I put my legs around his neck, trying to choke him, but the pain in my arms and back, and the awkward position didn’t allow me to do much damage, and the impostor started hitting me, but it wasn’t until someone hit me in the head that I finally lost the battle and let him go.  “You will regret this,” he said, taking a knife out of his belt and cutting my clothes off of me.  I knew what was coming next, it was as if he was following a script straight out of my nightmares.

“This was Faakhir’s plan, wasn’t it?  This impostor was his plan B, just in case he couldn’t break me himself,” I asked Temur.  “But Faakhir was wrong, and you will fail, just like him, you will die for your mistake, like he did.”

“Brave words, but you will change your tune soon enough,” Temur said, confident he was going to break me.

Once I was completely naked, the impostor gave me a satisfied smile, I had to keep reminding myself he wasn’t Agmong.  When he lifted the whip, a wave of fear washed over me, but there was nothing I could do.  I relaxed my body, trying to minimize the pain, but I couldn’t avoid the damage, soon the blood was flowing from my wounds, and my whole body felt on fire.  Despite the pain, I kept glaring defiantly at Temur, I knew he got excited by pain, and I knew he was only waiting for me to break to attack me.

“This is not working,” he complained.  “According to Agmong she should be crying and begging by now.”

“If that’s what you want from me, you are wasting your time.”

The impostor went to talk to Temur.  The respite only helped to highlight my wounds, since there were no distractions.  The impostor had done a good job at hurting me, and all my body was hurting.  I heard chains moving, and realized Kimball was awaking, he was staring at me, guilt and fury written in his eyes.  I knew he was going to do something.  I looked around and saw that everyone was awake, they were all staring at me with horror, and I knew I had to be looking very bad for them to show pity for me.

“I’m very disappointed in you,” the impostor told me, getting into Agmong’s role.  It was getting harder to remind myself he wasn’t the same person, the pain and the situation pulling at my memories.  “I only asked one thing of you, and you haven’t done it,” he moved closer and put his hand on my neck.  I noticed his gloves and that helped break the illusion, the real Agmong didn’t use gloves, they affected his powers.  “You need to scream for me.”

The electricity hit me, the pain was too much, but I wasn’t going to scream, but I was so overwhelmed that I had to leave my body and move to the astral plane, at least for a moment.  As soon as I watched the impostor releasing me, I went back to my body to the pain.  I could see that Temur was losing his patience, he wanted me broken, crying and begging.  I suspected that Faakhir had seen more of my memories than I had first thought, and apparently he had shared what he had found with Temur, maybe even showed him the memories telepathically.  I could imagine Temur jacking off to the thought of a broken, crying, Sklave.

“You are wasting your time, I won’t give you what you want,” I said, but my voice wasn’t as strong or secure as before, the pain affecting me more than I wanted to acknowledge.

“You were broken once, we can break you again, it will just take longer than I thought.”  Temur signaled the impostor, and he turned his attention back to me.

I couldn’t help but flinch when he approached me, betraying my fear.  The impostor rested the handle of the whip against my collarbone, and moved it down to one of my breasts, drawing circles around it.  I knew what he was going to do, something Agmong liked to do, and I couldn’t help but being afraid, my heavy breathing betraying my fear.  The electricity hit again, I had been expecting it, but that didn’t stop the pain or the memories that flowed.  I could see Temur and the impostor smiling at my reaction, and I knew that they weren’t buying my act any more.

The impostor moved the handle even lower, and I knew what was going to happen.  Agmong liked to electrocute me from inside, and I knew that the impostor didn’t have the same power, he was using his gloves to mimic Agmong’s power, but I was sure he was going to use the handle on me and I panicked.  I fought the impostor, but my desperation only confirmed that he had found something that would really affect me.  He grabbed one of my legs and used his hold to open my legs, but before he could put the handle on me, a loud sound distracted him.

Kimball had escaped his chains and was fighting the soldiers, trying to reach me.  The sound of shooting echoed in the cellar, mixed with the screams of the representatives.  Kimball fell to the ground, most of the shots had hit on his bullet proof clothes, but a few had hit on unprotected parts, and there was blood already flowing out of him.  Kimball was on his knees, but was trying to get up, but another shot rang and he fell again.  A heartbreaking cry filled the place, and it took me a second to realize it was me who was screaming.

Temur looked at me, satisfied, and then pulled a gun went to where two of his men were subduing Kimball.  “You are not so indifferent as you pretend, you do care about him.  The question is, how much?  What would you do for him?  Would you beg me for his life?”  I shook my head, but I wasn’t sure if I was answering his questions, or trying to deny the whole situation we had landed in.  “Beg me for his life.  Promise you will do anything I ask of you in exchange for his life,” he ordered, putting the gun on Kimball’s head.

I felt out of control, but nothing proved how gone I was as the pair of tears running down my face.  Kaiserin never cried, Sklave did.  Temur was about to win the battle, and I was about to lose myself.

Chapter 4

It took forever to get to the hospital, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to find once I got there.  I trusted Kimball to save our son, but part of me still felt afraid that something could have gone wrong.  I felt like I was failing them again, I felt like I should have used my powers to see the future and assess the risks, or even gone with them and used my powers to keep Ethan stable, but I haven’t, and all I could do was trust that Kimball would keep our son alive.

The psychic headache had finally arrived and I had a constant and painful ache that had forced me activate my suppressor, not because it took the pain away, but because it helped keep my powers from trying to make it worse.  The downside was that, even surrounded by loyal people, people I trusted, I was feeling insecure and fearful, scared that something could happen to me and I would be unable to fight it back.  After a battle like the one I had endured, I preferred to go and hide in a safe place to recover, but I couldn’t do that, I had different priorities, and the main one was Ethan, I had to make sure he was ok.

As soon as we arrived at the hospital, I noticed that something was going on in there, the tension was so strong that I could feel it, even without my powers.  I noticed some of my men there, even a few that I haven’t realized that had already left the school, but had obviously left before me.  I watched the hospital workers running around, looking with fear at my men and just the soldiers in the place.

“I think you still have a few patients waiting for you in that area,” Khalid told a young nurse when she tried to get to the area he was guarding.

“We usually attend people depending on how bad their injuries are, not by the order they arrive, and the men that just arrived…” she was trying to explain.

“Their injuries are not important, the scratches and bruises on the teachers and students are a bigger priority that the injuries of those who hurt them,” Khalid said, his cold voice making it clear he wasn’t going to discuss it, but the nurse was not ready to let it go.

“If those men are not treated right away, they could die because of their injuries,” the nurse said, trying to get around Khalid.  I had to recognize her bravery, she really cared about her patients an her job, no matter what kind of people her patients were, or maybe she just didn’t see those men as the bad guys.

“If your wish of saving the warriors that had no problem hurting innocents is keeping you from helping those innocents, maybe I should just get rid of them so you could focus on your job,” I said, getting closer to where they were talking.

“That won’t be necessary,” the nurse said, her voice betraying her fear.  “I will go back to the students.”

“Do you know where Ethan is?” I asked Khalid.  Trying to ignore the nurse that was getting away from us as fast as she could.

“I think he is in the OR,” he said, “but the one who knows is Mbali, I can take you to where she is,” Khalid offered, and I nodded my agreement.  As we walked away, I saw the nurse beside the door to the student’s room, and I knew she was going to try and get to the injured guards as soon as she had a chance, ignoring our warnings.

“Ivan gave me a list of the people you wanted to keep alive for interrogation, and they are already stabilized, a few other guards are still holding, but I assure you, none of them is going to be able to get away.  Our people is inside and around the hospital, keeping it safe and making sure no one can get in or out without our saying,” Khalid informed me.

“It doesn’t seem fair that while Ethan is fighting for his life, the people who helped put him there is ok,” I said, angry ant the unfairness of it all.

“Let’s be truly fair, and recognize that no one involved with hurting him is alive, the only ones still breathing are the ones you chose to keep alive, the rest didn’t even make it outside the auditorium.”

“That’s how it should be,” I said, without an ounce of remorse for my actions, just remembering Ethan in a pool of his own blood was enough to make my own blood boil.

We turned around a corner and found Mbali coming our way.

“I’m glad I found you, they were moved to a private room, and everything is supposed to be fine,” she said as soon as she realized it was me.

“They?” I asked.

“Kimball gave his blood to Ethan, and the doctors put him on bed rest until he recovers from it, it was a lot of blood.”

“He will be fine in a few minutes, I have witnessed him recovering from worse, I’m not worried,” I said, earning a look from Mbali that I couldn’t decipher.  Was she mad at me for not being worried about Kimball?  Or was she agreeing that he would be fine in no time?

“Here we are,” she said, pointing to a door.  I got in and the first thing I saw was Ethan in a middle of a bed.  I felt conflicted, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to feel relief that he was alive, or guilt that it had been my actions that had put him there in the first place.  I kept failing him.

“Kaiserin?  Is that you?”  Kimball asked from another bed, he sounded like he wasn’t sure I could be there.  Unlike Ethan, he was sitting on the bed, and looked well.  I knew there was nothing to worry about him.

“How are you?  I heard you gave your blood to Ethan?”

“He needed blood, and we couldn’t waste time.  I knew I was a match and I couldn’t risk anyone else giving him blood and him having a reaction to it.  Kaiserin, you did a good job,” he said, sincerely, and I couldn’t understand why he would say something like that.  “You know that my family’s regeneration can be a great aid or a curse, he could have started healing the wrong way, closing his vein shut, but because of your actions, because his blood kept flowing, the vein was already repairing itself as it should.  The surgery was a success, they repaired what was left of the damage easily.  With the help of the doctors and my blood, he will be just fine.”

I wasn’t sure that what I had done had helped that much, but he was already convinced that I had, and nothing I said would make him change his mind.  I just let the knowledge that Ethan was safe reach me and make me feel better.  I went to his side and took his hand between mine, he kept sleeping, and I knew he would stay asleep for a while longer, thanks to the anesthesia.

“There are a few of my men cleaning up the school, and Thalia is there to make sure that the guards that we post there are only loyal to us, so this won’t happen again,” I told Kimball.

“I’m sure everything will be fine.  We knew that after Faakhir’s death, something like this could happen, there’s many people interested in his position.  Things like this just happen,” Kimball said, and I knew he was just trying to ease my guilt, but knowing that something like this could happen, and still letting it happen made me feel even worse.

“I made a lot of mistakes, and those mistakes could have taken Ethan’s life.”

“You were doing your best, that’s all you can do.  You can’t blame yourself for what other people did.”

“I could have done a better job at preventing them.  I was sure I had it under control, I have no idea how I managed to let things get so out of hand.  I allowed Ethan to take unnecessary risks, you know that,” I was waiting for him to berate me, to recriminate me for my actions or lack of them.  It wouldn’t be the first time I had been accused of being a bad mother, and part of me wanted someone to tell me that and confirm what I was thinking.

“I think part of this was my fault,” Kimball surprised me by saying.  “I know what happened in there.  I think I pushed Ethan too far by denying him his freedom to fight, he acted like that because he was trying to prove himself, and I know that you supported him in that, that’s why you allowed him to act like that, to prove something to me.”

“And all I managed to do was put him at risk.  I know Ethan needs more freedom to act, and I know he’s strong and capable and maybe that’s why it was so difficult for us to see how much it was costing him to act like that.”

“You mean, how difficult it was for me to see it, you have already told me that Ethan needed more freedom, but once he found his friends I thought he would be ok.”

“I agreed that he needed to hide his abilities,” I didn’t like Kimball blaming himself, even if I agreed with part of what he was saying, “it was the role he had to play to stay safe.  When I took control of the Dominion, the last thing on my mind was how Ethan could stop pretending to be weak, it never occurred to me to change his role, he had to take control of his own life and change his role by himself.  Now, all we can do is see what is going to happen to him and how the new dynamics play out.”

“None of us thought about Ethan and how his circumstances had changed, we both failed him.”

“I feel guilty that he had to take things into his own hands.  I never wanted Ethan’s life to be like mine, I wanted things to be better, and I failed him, he has suffered just by being my child.”

“Ethan is eleven years old, same age as you when you had to fight and kill your way out of the Burrows, isn’t it?”

“Ethan was only five when Faakhir tried to use him against me, and eight when Jonas kidnapped and tortured him.  I should have done something to spare him, and I didn’t, I failed him.  Just like I failed him today.”

“What happened today couldn’t be avoided, but maybe it could be a good thing.  After what happened today, people will think twice before trying to hurt him to get to you.  Most of the guards died, and those who survived won’t talk again or will have other sequels from the fight for the rest of their lives.”

“How do you know all that if you stayed with Ethan?”

“Mbali kept me up to date, telling me what the reports were saying.”

“I’m scared that this is only the beginning, that there will be more attacks.  My men are working on preventing something like this from happening again, but I’m afraid it won’t be possible, like it wasn’t possible to prevent what happened today.  There are so many dangers, so many things that could go wrong.”

“Today was bad, but we will learn from our mistakes and won’t make them again, soon everything will be back in its place.  Before the year is over, we will bring Sophia back, with everything that implies.  There won’t be more fear or tyranny, we will be free, and happy.”

“I don’t think it will be that easy.  There’s a lot of work to do, a lot to rebuild.”

“It won’t be easy, I know, but we will make it.  It will be ok,” Kimball got out of the bed and took my hand, dragging me back with him.  “How’s your head?  You have the suppressor on, right?”

“The pain is under control.  You know it’s normal to have a headache after a fight like the one I had, but it will pass.”

“You should take the chance to rest for a while, I will wake you up as soon as Ethan does.”

“There’s still a lot to do,” I protested.

“Maybe, but you have capable people working for you, and you can spare a couple of hours to rest.  I can see that you are in pain, it’s not only the headache, your body also hurts.  So take a few minutes to rest, and give your body a chance to get better.”

“Just for a moment,” I accepted, but as always happened with Kimball, a sense of wellbeing surrounded me, making me feel so safe and relaxed that I fell asleep.

I woke up a few hours later, when Kimball got out of bed.  When I opened my eyes, I saw that Ethan was awake, and Kimball was with him.

“Are you in pain?” Kimball asked, and Ethan made a gesture, so, so.  “The damage was extensive, but you will be fine.  It’s one of the advantages of being a hybrid, right?”  Ethan tried to smile, but his face contorted in pain.  “Try not to talk or move too much, at least for today.  We had to put a suppressor on you, I wasn’t sure how much you had used your powers, but I was pretty sure that you abused your powers and didn’t want you to have a psychic headache making everything worse and working against your recovery.”

“With the way he fought the guards and everything else he did, I’m pretty sure he must be feeling a headache,” I told Kimball.  Ethan looked at me, as if he was just realizing I was in the room.  He tried to smile again, and he moved his lips, mouthing the words: Thank you for helping me.  “I should have done more…” I started to say, but Ethan was already shaking his head and hurting himself in the process.

“I think that Ethan doesn’t blame you for what happened, same as I don’t.  Now that Ethan is awake, I will start working on getting him moved to the Palace.  I will feel better if he is in a more controlled environment,” Kimball said.

“I think that’s a great idea.  I will go and walk around the hospital, I have to check on our prisoners.  I will catch up with you later.”

“That’s a good idea, is best if you are not seen with Ethan, that they don’t see your interest in him,” Kimball agreed.

“Ethan,” I said, getting closer to his bed, “I’m proud of you and what you did today.  I want you to know that you are a great warrior and I couldn’t ask more from you, you were perfect.”  Ethan threw his arms around my neck and hugged me, surprising me with his speed, I was expecting him to be too hurt to move like that, but I should have known better than to underestimate my son, he was strong, and he would recover from his injuries in no time.