At first I was trying to track the girl using the dagger I had used on her, but the dagger wasn’t moving, it had dislodged when she fell in the water, or as she was falling, the fact was that it wasn’t in her chest anymore. I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, but it was a fact. I needed to find another way of tracking her, she needed her injuries taken care off. I felt a group moving closer to us, and I knew it was Kimball and the other mzansiers. When I noticed Ivan’s mind moving closer to them, I decided to follow. If he reached them, he would find out our secret, and ruin my plans. I needed to stop him before he found them, or get rid of him if he did. I wasn’t going to sit and let him ruin everything.
I reached Kimball and saw he had the young woman in his arms, she looked tired and scared, but otherwise fine. I was moving closer to them when I noticed Ivan appearing to their other side.
“Stop!” He ordered Kimball, and I could hear, and feel, the intensity in his voice and knew he was going to do whatever it needed to stop Kimball. “Let the Princess go.”
“I don’t think so,” I told him, my voice strong, forcing Ivan to turn my way, attracting his attention so the rest of the mzansiers could move to better defensive positions.
“Vanya!” The young woman called. I wasn’t sure who she was calling, so I took a peek into her mind, and that was enough to find the truth.
“Vanya?” I asked, trying to attract Ivan’s attention again, but it was Kimball who answered.
“A variation of the name Ivan, a diminutive used by friends and family,” Kimball was explaining the name change, but also the relationship between them.
I had already noticed the familiarity between the Princess and Ivan, and the memories in her mind explained a lot, but I needed to know the whole truth, I needed to know if what she was thinking was correct, or if Ivan was playing with her. Ivan disappeared and appeared closer to Kimball, but he was already waiting for him and moved away, being careful not to hurt the young woman in his arms. I took the opportunity to send a psychic attack to Ivan, I didn’t need to be careful anymore, but I needed to know if his memories were the same as the Princess’ memories.
I got into Ivan’s mind and started to look through his memories and plans. I knew I was hurting him, but I needed answers and I needed them fast, so there was no other choice. It didn’t take long to find what I needed, but I was surprised by his mind’s strength and his mental discipline. The fact that Faakhir hadn’t found out that he was working against him was incredible. I haven’t either, but I had just met him and I had no reasons to doubt his loyalty. I knew right there that his loyalty was absolute, it just wasn’t directed to the King and Queen, but to the last surviving member of the new Russian Royal Family.
Ivan passed out once I finished with him, his mind had received a great trauma and needed some time to heal, which was fine by me, I needed the time to piece everything together. Using my powers I dragged Ivan to Kimball’s camp, where he was already treating the Princess’ injuries. The young woman looked tired, and was passed out as well, her strength finally leaving her. Kimball was working on the cut I had caused, it wasn’t deep, but it needed to be treated to avoid infection and any lasting damage. I left Ivan resting against one of the tent’s supports and moved closer to Kimball and his patient.
“Ivan wasn’t trying to kill her, he wanted to protect her, right?” Kimball asked, without taking his eyes off his task.
“That’s right. Apparently he had the same idea we did. He pretended to change sides and help his people from the inside. Apparently it was his idea to hide her in the house by the river, his men were the ones protecting her. All this time I was worried about him killing her, and he was trying to protect her from me.”
“What are you going to do now?” Kimball asked. I could see he was very relaxed, I took that as a good sign. I was glad to know that the injury I had caused wasn’t that bad.
“First of all, I need to go back and talk to the people they assigned to me, and convince them that I lost her body, but that she is dead. I hope that by then you will have her in a safe place so no one will know what really happened.”
“I think that, first of all, we need to make sure our stories match,” Ivan interrupted. He had recovered fast, surprising me once again with his mental strength. “It seems that you have a lot of secrets you need to keep hidden.”
“So do you, but mine are bigger than yours.”
“You were really trying to help her, not kill her.” He wasn’t asking, but I felt like I needed to confirm his words.
“That’s right, I was trying to do what was right, I was trying to do what Sofia would want.”
“Her last wish before dying? She wanted you to save the rest of her family?”
“Who says she is dead?” I said.
“I saw her dead body,” Ivan responds.
“You shouldn’t believe everything you see,” Kimball adds. “After all, you saw Natasha being stabbed and thrown from a second story building, surely she is dead, right?”
“It’s not the same,” Ivan said, but then kept silent, thinking, understanding what we were trying to tell him.
During my attack on his mind, I could see who Ivan was and what he wanted, and I knew that he needed to keep Natasha safe, it was a promise he had made to her parents, just before he pretended to betray them. He couldn’t do the same I had done, he couldn’t fake their deaths, he had to kill them for real. When the Dominion had overpowered them, the people he had sworn to protect asked him to save their daughter, and kill them. Natasha’s parents knew they were dead, no matter what, so they sacrificed themselves, giving their lives to Ivan, so he could present their deaths to Emily, to prove his loyalty to the Dominion.
Being inside his mind, I could see and feel how hard it had been for him to follow Natasha’s parents last order, how much he had worked on following their last wish, how much he had risked protecting her. For weeks he had done everything he could to keep her safe, even as he pretended to hunt her down. He was going to do everything he could to keep her alive, and because of that I wasn’t afraid he would reveal my secrets, it was as important, if not more, for him to keep Natasha safe. I also knew that if he thought we could keep her safe from Emily, he would do anything to help us, to help me reach my goals.
“Just like you did, I entered Faakhir’s service with the intention of protecting my family,” I told him, because I knew that Natasha was like a sister to him, “after talking to Sofia I decided to extend my reach. I haven’t done a proper job, many innocents have died and I have done nothing to help, but now that I have the young Princess, I will do everything I can to keep her safe. There is a place the King and Queen know nothing about, she can be safe there. No one will be able to find her there.”
“Will I be able to see her?” Ivan asked. “I would like to make sure she is safe and well. It’s my job to protect her, and I know I’m not in a position to do that, but if I will let her care in your hands, I have to have a guarantee that she won’t be harmed.”
“One of the reasons that place is so safe, is because very few people know of its existence, and even less people know where it is. We can’t tell you where we are taking her, but I guess we can look for a way to establish some sort of communication for you, so you can check on her,” Kimball offered. “I’m surprised you are taking this so well. When I noticed you were trying to protect Natasha, I thought it would be harder to convince you we were on your side.”
“I have to recognize that Kaiserin is pretty strong, and resourceful. When I noticed how superficial the wound on the Princess was, I knew that was on purpose. When I saw you helping her, I realized you weren’t trying to kill her. Besides, after that mental attack, I’m sure that if you wanted me dead, I would already be dead.”
“I apologize for the invasion, but I needed to make sure we were on the same side. I know that what I’m doing is not a job for one person, I will need help, and you are more useful to me alive.”
“Besides, the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Kimball said. “I know we can do great things working together.”
“It’s harder every day,” Ivan said, “the things the King and Queen do make me sick, but I need to pretend I don’t care, that I agree with them. There’s nothing I can do to stop them.”
“If you prefer, I can pretend you are another one of my victims and make you disappear with Natasha, you can stay safe, with her, until the time to reclaim the Dominion arrives,” I offered, even knowing that having him with me would be a much better option.”
“To accept that, is accepting that I lost. When I joined them, it was thinking that I could take them down and gave their place to Natasha. I thought that if I kept her alive long enough, she would be able to claim the throne and help build the place back up. But it’s impossible, I can’t do it, not alone. There’s too many people on their side, some because of greed, some because of fear, but the job is too much for a person working alone. With you, I feel like it’s possible, that we have a chance. Alone we can’t do it, but together we might.”
“I’m glad you think like that. I agree that together we can achieve great things.”
“I gave Natasha some sedatives to help with her pain and make transportation easier. My people and I will take her to the same place where Sofia is. As soon as I can, I will find a way for you to talk to her, so you can see for yourself that she is fine,” Kimball told Ivan. Afterwards he moved closer to me. “I know that you won’t be able to leave Capital City for a while, so I will do my best to go visit you.” Kimball hugged me and kissed me, and then he left, leaving me alone with Ivan.
“So, what are we going to do?” Ivan asked.
“Stay for a little while here, I will go back and say that I haven’t been able to find you or Natasha, then you go back in an hour or so and say that you couldn’t find her body. The rest of the men will think that we are still enemies. There’s no reason why our relationship should change, in fact, I think that after today we should be even more antagonistic between us.”
“I agree. The fact that Natasha is safe and that I’m not alone in this is enough to give me the energy I need to keep pretending to be someone I’m not.”
It took me just a few minutes to go back to the house on the river. It was easy to find it, despite the darkness with the sun already set, because of the fire that had been initiated in the house. When I arrived, I found the rest of the team there, most of them were injured and I couldn’t find the prisoners anywhere.
“What happened?” I asked the first man I found.
“After you left, there was an explosion, the whole place was enveloped in flames. Most of the prisoners escaped,” he confessed with fear, “we managed to kill a couple, but it was too fast.”
“I didn’t hear any explosion,” it was hard to think that something like that had escaped my attention. While I watched the ruins of the house that was full just a couple of hours before, it was hard to imagine so much destruction happening so fast.
“It was like a flash,” another one said, “one moment everything was fine, the next we were covered in fire. The prisoners escaped to the river, a couple of our men went after them, but they haven’t returned yet.”
“I didn’t see any of them, I’m sure I didn’t run across any of them,” I was sure my senses weren’t deceiving me, none of them had gone down the river. It made no sense, the logical move was to go after Natasha, that had been dragged by the river, unless Ivan had given them other orders to avoid their capture. “Let’s wait for them to return, there’s no point in wasting our time going after them, our job was to neutralize the heiress, the rest of them are useless. I will rest for a little while, try to control the fire, I don’t want the fire expanding to the woods. When Ivan arrives, tell him I want to speak to him.”
I went to a safe place, away from the fire, and I prepared for a short astral walk. I needed to form a better idea of where we were and make sure there were no more surprises waiting for me. Knowing that I would have an ally in Ivan, made me feel better about being surrounded by the enemy, but I couldn’t trust him yet, despite knowing his objectives and where his loyalty lied, I couldn’t forget that his loyalty was to Natasha, not me.
I found the place where Nataasha’s guardians were hiding and knew they were safe. My own men were already going back to the house. I left the astral plane, but I decided to wait where I was until the rest of my men arrived. Once I heard a commotion I knew the whole group was reunited.
“Are you sure the wound is not dangerous?” Ivan was asking one of the men.
“It’s nothing that can’t wait for later, I will be fine,” the young, injured man said. The amount of blood coming out of his wound was impressive, but the wound was superficial, it looked worse that it was.
“Where were you?” I asked Ivan, who ignored me. “Where’s the young woman’s body?”
“I couldn’t find it, the river dragged it, I lost it in the rapids and I couldn’t find it downstream. It most likely sank down or was dragged too far. The visibility was very bad, it was impossible to find it in those conditions.”
“When the King asks what happened here, I will tell him that your incompetence made us lose the body.” I ignored Ivan and his answer, I turned to face the rest of the group. “There’s nothing else to do here. Let’s go back to the helicopter, it’s time to go back to Capital City.”