Melchizedek and Soturi started to argue and the baby started to cry. Soturi took the baby in her arms and left the room, leaving me alone with Melchizedek.
“Could you explain what was that about?” I didn’t understand and that made me uneasy, I didn’t like to be out of control, what little control I had, I treasured, in everything I did.
“Family is the most important gift one can have,” Melchizedek started, “but my people knows that parents aren’t immortal and we select godparents to take care of the children if the need arise. Godparents are there for the kids, helping in their development and education, ready to step in if the parents disappear. Mistral doesn’t have a godmother yet, and I think that you would be perfect for the role.”
“You have to be kidding me,” the man was crazy.
“I’ve seen you in my future, I need you and you need me,” he insisted, “you will be a good role model for my little girl.”
“I’m a warrior, a killer, that lives thousand of miles from here, and you want me as a role model for your daughter? For a bright one?”
“Not exactly, I want the woman who has overcome all adversity, the one who never gives up, the one capable of putting her family and friends before her. That’s the woman I want as a role model for Mistral.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about.” I didn’t like that the man knew me so well, he seemed to know facts about me that he shouldn’t. “You are asking for something impossible.”
“I don’t think so, you are a woman with a big, loving heart.”
“You keep talking nonsense,” I felt a little bit of anger despite his powers, “you don’t know me, you can’t know that. Your partner was right, I came here for the tribute and I’m not leaving without it. My life and my future depend on this mission, I need to find out what happened to those who came before me and I need to return with the slaves.”
“We can’t allow you to take innocent people back to your land to be abused and mistreated.” Soturi was back, her arms were empty.
“Innocent?” I remembered my talks with Ilum, about how she became a slave. “I was under the impression that those selected to become slaves were paying for their sins, looking to be forgiven by your goddess.” Both Melchizedek and Soturi stared at me with surprise in their eyes, I felt surprised by their reaction, or maybe it was just an after effect of Melchizedek’s empathy.
“Where did you hear that?” Melchizedek asked.
“Ilum, one of my mother’s slaves told me.”
“Originally the Shadow Land was created to contain those considered sinners by the High Priests of the Light,” Melchizedek explained, “but the descendants of those exiled here are innocent people. Many, like Soturi and her family, have never done anything wrong in their lives, their only sin was to be born here in the Shadows and not in the Light. Is not their actions, but their luck what made them slaves.”
“My only sin was to fall in love with Melchizedek,” Soturi said. “A year ago, he came here along with some High Priests and I fell in love with him. During his visit, we decided to unite our lives in sacred marriage with the goddess blessing, but after a few months Melchizedek had to go back to the Light and his family didn’t allow me to go with him.”
“My family never accepted our union,” Melchizedek continued, “so they convinced me to go back and they kept me busy for a long time, but I knew that Mistral was soon to be born and I came back. But I was too late.”
“The High Priests knew that Melchizedek and I were not going to stay apart for long, so they, along with those in charge of this land decided to send me and my family to your Empire as slaves.” Soturi shuddered at the memory. “They delivered us to the dark ones and they put us all in a vehicle. There were a lot of us and not enough space, I was so scared… Fear provoked my childbirth to start early. I had my daughter in that horrible place. When the slavers noticed what had happened, they were angry, they told me that once we reached our destination they were going to take my baby away. I was terrified, I spent my time watching them fight, train, wrestle. Then another group attacked us, my father was a strong man and he managed to open a hole in our prison and I escaped, the rest of my family wasn’t so lucky, I watched as they were killed. They tried to kill me too, but I couldn’t let that happen, I had to protect my child, so I did what I had seen the dark ones doing, I fought back, repeating the things that I had seen, and using my speed I managed to escape. My little one was all that was left of my family, so I walked back to the Shadows looking for Melchizedek, trying to give my baby a family.”
“I thought I was going crazy when I arrived to the Shadows and found out what had happened to Soturi and her family, I knew it was my fault. But by then my visions were getting stronger and I knew that Soturi, Mistral and I were going to be together, so I knew that I would find them. I went looking for them, and the goddess guided me to them.”
“We found each other in the limit between the Empire and the Shadows Land. It was there that we decided that we weren’t going to let that happen again to any family,” Soturi said, “we are not going to let you keep enslaving us and abusing us. We took over the government of this Land and established new rules.”
“This has caused a break in my relationship with my family.” Melchizedek said, and I felt the echo of his feelings, a stab of sadness went through me. “But I’m sure I’m doing the right thing, I’m acting in the best interest of my new family and my new people.”
“So after the High Priests try to get rid of Soturi you two decided to become the rulers and protectors of these innocents. You are the ones blocking the tribute.” I resumed. “I can understand that, but what happened to my predecessors?”
“We try to tell them that the deal was off and we wouldn’t send more send more slaves, but they didn’t listen and tried to take people by force, so we had to stop them.” Soturi said.
“Did you kill them?”
“Of course not!” She answered outraged. “The goddess teachings forbid murder, it doesn’t matter how awful they are.” She whispered the last words.
“Then, where are they?”
“They’re safe. We will take you to them so you can see for yourself.” Melchizedek promised.
We stopped talking about my business there and spent a couple hours talking about how they met and then about little Mistral. After eating Soturi took me to a hut where my soldiers were resting. I saw most of them sleeping, the ones awake looked tired, maybe drugged.
“We gave them something to calm them,” Soturi explained, “except for me, the people here don’t know how to fight, we have to be sure they won’t harm anybody.”
“I thought that your partner was the one doing the calming.”
“His range is limited,” she said, “you must have noticed, we have been out of his range for a while now. Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t attack me as soon as you could.”
It was true that as we put distance between Melchizedek and us I started to feel different, not so calm, but even then the thought of attacking Soturi hadn’t crossed my mind. There was no reason to do it, she hadn’t hurt me, all she had done was defending herself and her people. No, I had to understand what was going on before taking action. I couldn’t go back empty handed, but I knew that Melchizedek and Soturi weren’t going to let me walk with their people as slaves.
“I’m not afraid of you,” I said after an awkward silence, “you are strong, but not a real threat, so there is no need to attack you. No matter what tricks your partner has or what you can do, I won’t allow anyone to hurt my men.” I saw my warriors, they looked fine, still affected by Melchizedek and whatever they had given them, but they weren’t hurt. “I trust that whatever you gave them doesn’t have side effects.”
“None, I assure you, it’s perfectly harmless.” She sounded sincere, I wanted to believe her. “Later we will bring them something to eat, but you can eat at our table if you want.”
“Thanks, I’ll think about it.”
I spent the rest of the day with my men and by the next day there was no trace of whatever drug they had given them. Most of them were angry now that they could, not only they had been humiliated by a bright one, they had been drugged and rendered harmless by them.
It took me a while to settle them down, I had to remind them not to do anything without my authorization, I didn’t want them to make things worse. After promising Soturi that my men wouldn’t harm theirs, she promised not to drug them again. After breakfast we started the journey to the place where they had my predecessors.
The people from the Shadows didn’t have vehicles to move, they used animals to move around, because of that they didn’t have proper streets and our own vehicles became useless after a while. It was hours after we left our vehicles that we reached our destination, a huge canal. Some of the people from Soturi’s group went ahead and entered some offices while we walked closer to the canal. The Canal was divided into section by huge metal walls. We were in front of one of those sections, on the bottom we could see a vessel floating in the water. After some noise I saw water being poured into the section and the vessel started to rise to our level. People started to come out, filling the deck.
“This is the best we could come up with,” Melchizedek explained, “this canal divides the Shadow lands from the rest of the Light Kingdom, there are a few crossing paths and a few places like this where we can keep dangerous people away from potential victims. When your people arrived, we decided to keep them here, is the only place we could think of.”
“So you have a jail to keep your enemies locked up.” It was hard to understand those people, so concerned with freedom, yet imprisoning others. “How do you keep this place? How do you avoid escape?”
“There is a group of people that take care of their basic needs, they are fed three times a day and there’s a cleaning crew that goes once a week. They are given potions to calm their spirits and avoid fighting, besides, there is something in the canal that blocks their powers, we don’t know what, we just know that is a technology from before our time.” Soturi explained. “There are two other places like this, we try to make people comfortable here, but the arrival of your people complicated things, now we have too many people here.”
“You take a lot of time and effort to take care of people who is trying to harm you, is a waste.” I could see some familiar faces in the deck of the ship. “How many people do you have here?”
“There are about 150 of your people, plus 50 criminals from the Light.” Melchizedek answered.
“Two hundred people just in this place, and you have more?”
“That’s correct princess. Even if we try to deny it, wickedness is part of the human nature. Even in the Light there are sick people who enjoy taking other people’s life or hurting others. Not all of those sent to the Shadows are truly evil, some end up here because of misdemeanors, but the people we keep here is the one that cannot help but to hurt those around them.” Melchizedek sounded truly sad to be forced to keep them there, a sadness that I felt because of his empathy.
“We keep them here so they can’t harm innocent people, if they do something is to each other.” Soturi added. “Is not an optimal situation, but is the best we could do. We can’t send them back to the Light, but we won’t let them hurt people in the Shadows.”
“Innocents,” I tasted the word, “you keep repeating that word.” For some reason the word kept running around in my mind.
The water finally stopped pouring, the vessel was finally at our level. A metal plank was extended, forming a bridge between the vessel and land, but the bridge wasn’t complete, the plank stopped a few feet from the vessel. Melchizedek and Soturi walked into the plank and I followed them. I could see the colonels that had been sent before me waiting on the other side.
“Are you coming to join us?” asked colonel Vermello, the one Vasuman had sent before me. “I’m saving you a place in my bed.”
“No thanks,” I said, “my men and I are staying at the village, I don’t want to sleep on a ship, and I don’t want your company.”
“Do you prefer the bed of some filthy bright one?” I had tried to teach Vermello that I was a true warrior, but for him I was only the general’s lover. “I don’t know what tricks you used to stay out of here, but I guess nothing is beneath you.” He was going to keep insulting me, I was sure, but another colonel hit him in the head stopping his words.
“Have some respect you insect,” colonel Net said, “don’t forget she is an heiress and you are nothing but a lowly soldier.”
“Net, I wasn’t expecting you to be here.” I was surprised to see my cousin there, not so surprising to find Hor next to her, they were always together, just like their parents.
“Neither I expected you, especially not looking like that.” She made a gesture with her hands. “You look so much better than the last time we saw each other.”
“That’s right.” I didn’t like to be speaking in front of everyone. But I just needed to see that the imperialist were alive, and I had seen them, there was no need to stay there. “Be ready, tomorrow we will go back to the Empire.”
“Princess…” Soturi started to speak, but was interrupted by Melchizedek.
“It’s ok,” Melchizedek hugged Soturi, “is for the best, we can’t keep them here forever.” He smiled at me and I felt a wave of calmness go through my body. He trusted me, and I didn’t want to let him down, but still, I had a job to do.
The water started to descend again and the vessel was again out of reach. As I saw them get away a new plan formed in my mind. I walked with Melchizedek and Soturi, we ate and talked until it was dark. I knew my men were restless, but they followed my orders, none of them attacked the people from the Shadows.
At night I exposed my plan to my people, I let them know the risks. We were the biggest group sent there, but we were few compared to the rest of the imperialists already captured. I needed them to follow my orders, but I knew that at least one of the colonels imprisoned by the Shadows was Caracalla’s follower.
The next morning I woke up early and went outside to watch the sunrise. I could see the canal and the place where my people were being held from my spot. Suddenly I felt very calm and I knew Melchizedek was approaching me.
“Good morning princess,” he greeted me. “What’s your plan for today?”
“I plan to take my people back. I don’t plan to harm your people.”
“I know you will do the right thing,” his voice sounded weird and when I looked at him his eyes were white. “Today is the first day of our relationship, the foundation of our future.” His eyes went back to normal. “The downside of a vision is that it often shows you the end, but not the path taken to get there.” Melchizedek was not as cryptic as Cerridwen, but not even he said things directly. “Do you want to join us at breakfast?”
“I would be honored,” I said sincerely, “but I would like the other colonels to join us, we have a lot to discuss.”
“If you think is for the best.” We walked to the canal, some of my men went to the office to see how the canal was operated. Soturi joined us just as the metal plank was being extended.
“You told me that something in the vessel or around it takes their powers away, at what point are they going to get them back?” I was worried about Caracalla’s follower.
“As soon as they walk into the bridge.” Soturi answered.
“Then you should stay here, things could get complicated.” They didn’t ask questions, just obeyed. This time the plank has gone all the way to the vessel, I walked until I was just a few feet from the vessel. “Our hosts asked the colonels to join them at breakfast,” I told them, “it’s an opportunity to have a civil discussion so we can leave this place.”
“So kind of them.” Vermello said, he was the first to walk into the plank.
The other started to cross as well and I turned around to get back to the land, but I haven’t even reached the middle when I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head, a typical mental attack.
I froze for a moment, but when I felt someone near me, I turned around ready to attack. When I saw Vermello’s fist near my face, for a second I was too surprised to move, but I put my shield in time to protect me, his fist only hit my shield. Vermello’s punches were explosive, literally, and the small explosion caused when his fist hit my shield send us both a couple of steps back.
“You?” I wasn’t expecting him to be the first to attack.
“I never liked you, and now I finally understand why so many people is trying to get rid of you.” Was his only explanation.
“Once you’re dead, Caracalla will reward us.” Said the colonel I had already identified as one of Caracalla’s followers and the one who was attacking my mind.
“You made a big mistake.” Both of them attacked me at the same time, I knew my shield wouldn’t be able to stop both of them, so I dodged their attacks.
I opened my mind so my attacker could get inside, I knew that the only way I could get rid of her was to use the weapon my father had accidentally given me. Once the colonel took the bite and entered my mind, I trapped her using mental walls. I could feel her hitting the walls and I knew that she was going to tear them in no time. Before she could escape, my mental image opened the chest that had my last unrecovered memory. The psychic explosion made her mental image disintegrate and her physical body to writhe in pain. The problem was that I was also affected, and Vermello took advantage of my moment of weakness to kick me, I tried to block him, but the explosion of his kick sent me to the floor. I slid on the plank until there was nothing under my legs, I used my arms and hands to stop me from falling from the bridge.
“It was a good try, but your luck is finished.” Vermello lifted his foot, ready to step on my hands and break my hold.
“It’s not a matter of luck.” I said as I grabbed Vermello with my mind and threw him out of the bridge. I heard him hitting the metal walls and then the water. Using my mind, I was able to climb back to the bridge, only to see Soturi fighting another colonel. He was about to push her out of the bridge, so I used my mind to throw him away before checking to see if Soturi was fine.
“Are you ok?” she asked me before I could ask her that. “Why did they attack you?”
“I’m alright, are you ok?” she nodded. “There is a price over my head,” I explained, “I’m sure she convinced them that it was in their best interest to get rid of me and collect the price.” I said as pointed to the colonel trying to stand after my mental attack.
The colonel was finally able to stand up, she started walking towards me, I knelt and touched the metal plank, I established a connection, and using that, I created a spear that pierced her heart. She gasped, looking at the spear. When I made the spear disappear, she fell off the bridge.
“You killed her!” Soturi was horrified. I think that in the heat of the battle she didn’t notice I had killed Vermello as well.
“It was her or me,” for some reason I tried to justify myself. I walked to the other colonel still on the ground and using my mind, I kept him from moving. “Do you want to join your friend? Or do you prefer to swear me obedience for the rest of this mission?” I felt him struggling to get free of my mental hold, but it was a useless fight, I had perfected tricks like this while fighting for my life.
“I guess that I have no option but to swear obedience,” he said, “I’m colonel Kasha from the Vlad family, at your service.”
“Perfect,” I said satisfied, his superficial thoughts were of fear and respect, I was sure that would be enough to keep him loyal until we left the Shadows. I heard someone approaching and I noticed Net. “Are you going to attack me too cousin?”
“Of course not Kaiserin,” she said, “the day I fight you, the day I defeat you, will be at the battle for the throne, in front of the whole Clan, not in the middle of nowhere with no witnesses.”
“I guess that’s going to have to be enough.” I never had a relationship with Net as I had with Inionri or Lamia, but she was family. “Hor?” I called my cousin. “There are a couple of squads without a current leader, I will take control of Vermello’s people, could you take control of the other group?”
“Do you trust me?” he asked.
“More than I trust the others.” I said.
“All right.” He said with a smirk.
“Let’s get out of here, I still can feel that nasty buzzing,” Net said, “even if I can use my powers now, I can still feel it and is still driving me crazy.”
“What buzzing?” I didn’t hear it.
“Is what blocks their powers,” Melchizedek said, “whatever is blocking their powers, manifests as an intense buzzing that breaks their focus and stops them from using them.”
It wasn’t a clear explanation, but I wasn’t going to go and find out what they were talking about, I wasn’t going to risk my powers under any circumstance.”
Net, Hor, Kasha and I went back with Melchizedek and Soturi and had breakfast. We talk about everything and nothing, avoiding the issue we were really interested about. I just hoped that my people could prepare everything before we finished.
We went out of the hut where we were fed and found a group of people beside the canal. A bright one came running to us when she saw us.
“Doña Soturi,” she called, “doña Soturi. Please come quickly.”
Soturi was ready to run, but I stopped her.
“Everything is ok,” I told her, “nothing to worry about.” Soturi looked at me with distrust, she was afraid despite her partner’s calmness surrounding us. Her feelings had to be very strong to overcome Melchizedek’s.
“What did you do?” she asked me.
“I told you before, I can’t go back empty handed.” The group by the canal moved, and we saw a group of people that stood chained, surrounded by my people. “You told me you wouldn’t allow me to hurt innocent people,” I pointed to the people in chains, “none of them is innocent, my people searched their minds, everyone of them represents a real threat to you. I think this is in both our benefit,” I tried to justify, to make them agree with me, “I’m helping you to get rid of a few bad seeds and I’m keeping my promise to my people at the same time.”
“I don’t like it, but I agree that is a good compromise.” Melchizedek said.
“Melch!” Soturi wasn’t happy.
“Think about it, dear. Do you have a better solution?”
Soturi looked at her partner and then at me, I felt her relax a little.
“What would happen in six months when the Empire demands their tribute?” Soturi asked.
“Then you will guide them to one of your prisons so they can take another fifty criminals.” I suggested. She wasn’t entirely convinced, but she agreed.
We traveled back to the village where we first met Melchizedek and Soturi. There we recovered the vehicles that their people had taken from the previous groups. Once we were ready I went to say goodbye to Melchizedek and Soturi.
“It’s time to say goodbye.” I told them.
“That’s right,” Soturi said, and then she surprised me by hugging me, “I was wrong, you are a good person after all. I would be honored if you agree to be my daughter’s godmother.”
“I would be honored,” I said, “but I have to refuse, I don’t think is a good idea.”
“I think is a great idea.” Melchizedek said, but he didn’t insist.
After saying our goodbyes and hearing some advices from Melchizedek we went back to the Empire. I was happy, I had succeeded where others had failed, but my mission was far from over. Beside, my talks with Melchizedek and Soturi had given me a lot to think about. I had felt at peace in the Shadows, but my mind was a whirlwind of ideas. There was so much to considerate, I just hoped that I had enough time to do it before I was back with Vasuman.
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