Chapter 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?”  Ethan asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you know?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you alright? I had been worried about you.

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

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

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

Tomorrow.  I will be waiting for you.

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

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

Are you a dream or real?‘ he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In the gym.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are sure that’s what you want…

I’m sure mother, I want this chance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That sounds cool,” Zuberi said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Great,” I said, sarcastically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good morning Kaiserin,” William greeted me.

“Good morning,” I greeted them both.

“Greetings,” Dante said, his tone reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 18

“We have a problem,” Thalia told me the next day.

“What kind of problem?” I asked, not even lifting my eyes from the reports in front of me.  Being in charge of the Dominion was very different from being an empress, but there were a few things that were the same, the reports in front of me a clear example.

“Someone has been messing with the minds of some of your domestic employees.  We don’t know how, but someone has managed to get pass the guards and get into the palace.  I was able to confirm that several of them, Alondra included, had altered memories.  I don’t know how extensive the damage is, I didn’t want to go too deep for fear of hurting them even more.”

“Maybe I can take another look,” I said, wondering, my mind going back to when a telepath had messed with some of my mother’s guards, myself included.  My mother almost died that time, and I had been the only survivor among the guards under mind control.  “Our priority is to identify and stop this person.”

“It won’t be easy,” Thalia said, clearly uncomfortable.  “The problem is that each person remember a different face, we don’t even know for sure if that last clear memory they have had something to do with the person behind the attacks, or if we are facing a group working together.”

“There is another possibility, that we are facing someone like Agata.”

“That’s not possible, she is a unique case,” Thalia protested, thinking about the unique power that the ex-assassin possessed.

“I would like to think the same, but there is always the possibility.  I’ll call Agata, maybe she would be able to tell us if there is someone like her out here.”

Finding Agata’s mind was easy, her psychic fingerprint was easy to identify, and she was close by.  As usual, she accepted my orders without question, and a couple of minutes later she was walking into the room.

“Greetings, how can I be of service?”

“We have a problem, and maybe you can help us, it seems that someone has been messing with my employees’ minds, and Thalia and I came up with a few theories of what could my happening, mine is that we are facing someone with the same kind of abilities as you.”

“What makes you think that?” she asked, surprised.

“That almost all of the people affected has been suffering from blackouts, and the last memory before them shows a different person each time.  If they were all thinking of the same person, it would be easy, the problem is that each employee remembers a different person.”

“You think someone is taking over their minds, do you think it’s me?” Agata replied.

“Of course not, but we want to know if you know of anyone else with the same powers as you,” Thalia said, but Agata was still mad.

“Agata, you know that I trust you, you wouldn’t be here otherwise.  We have a security issue we have to resolve as soon as possible, and we need your help for that.  Now tell me, do you know of anyone else with the same power as you?  Someone who can go into a person and take over her body?” I asked, trying to calm her down.

“I have heard rumors of people who can move between minds, but no one with the exact same power.  I could try to stay alert in case I can find a person with the same power.”

“Thanks, that is enough.  Just keep your eyes open for any suspicious activity.”

“What do you think we should do?” Thalia asked.

“So far the only people affected are employees, no guard.  We need to make sure that’s the case, check the guards and make sure they are ok, and if that’s the case, we will have to pair them so they can protect those who can’t.”

“I don’t think either group will like that,” Thalia said.

“I don’t care, it’s for their own safety and they will have to adapt.”

Once Thalia and Agata were gone, I tried to go back to work, but it was near impossible, Thalia’s news kept distracting me.  How could someone infiltrate my territory like that without being identified?  We were supposed to be better than that, and I was worried about Alondra, if they had gotten to her, who had developed such strong defenses while dealing with Faakhir, then it was bad.

Later, I got a visit from Aziz, the last person I expected.  I wasn’t sure if his arrival was good or bad, after all, his interview had seriously affected how people thought of me, and I wasn’t sure if that had been for my benefit.

“Greetings, my dear Kaiserin.”

“Greetings, Aziz.  How can I help you?”

“Actually, it’s me who wants to help you.  I want to offer my services as your spokesperson, I want to be in charge of your press releases, and basically, help with the public perception of you.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I said, trying to sound nice.

“I know you are not happy with me, but let me assure you it wasn’t my intention to act behind your back, William told me to give that interview, and that it was what you wanted, that’s why I did it, I never imagined he could be lying.  Still, I think that really helped your image, and I would like to keep working on that.  If the people stop thinking of you as the enemy, things would be easier for you.”

“I’m not used to think about that kind of things, I just need for a few people to know the truth and follow my orders, other than that, I don’t really care what people think about me.  And my predecessors didn’t care about that either, so…”

“On the contrary, they cared, that’s why they were doing their best to get rid of people like me, they hated anyone who said anything negative about them, as if filling the news with positive things would make any difference.  Still they tried to repeat over and over how perfect things were with them, and it kind of worked at the beginning, but it’s hard to keep believing the fantasy when you don’t even have food to eat.”

“And what are your plans?”

“First of all, I would like you to give an interview, let people get to know you.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.  Couldn’t you just work in a way I wouldn’t have to be involved?”

“There is a person who is very eager to interview you, it’s a person that haven’t been quiet about her hate to you, and if you manage to face her and turn her, then the rest of the people will follow her, people who still think you are just an assassin.”

“If she is so convinced I’m bad, a little talk won’t change her mind, and if I do manage to convince her I’m not that bad, then her followers will just assume I’m messing with her brain.”

“I’m afraid that people still think of Faakhir as the strongest telepath of this generation, and he wasn’t able to control her.  She is a very powerful telepath, and very respected because of that, she can make people be open with her.  Her power is similar to William’s, but it works in a different way.”


“Well, William can command you to tell him the truth, he can influence you, but you know what’s going on, you feel his dominance over you, but her, on the other side, makes you feel so comfortable that you end up telling her anything, her power is more like hypnotism.”

“And you want me to talk to her? I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“I really doubt she would be able to control you, and still I think it would be worth it, we could even ask for a delay in the transmission of the interview, that way, if things get out of control, we can cut it.”

“That’s something I will have to think about.  But if you want the position as a spokesperson, I think that can be arranged, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.  I’ll confirm after I have some time to consider the implications.”

“I appreciate your trust, you won’t regret it,” Aziz said, and I could tell he really mean it.  He had been one of my most vocal opponents, but once he got to know me, he had changed his mind.  Still, I needed to be careful, I couldn’t trust blindly again, not after what had happened with William.  I couldn’t allow anyone else to betray me like that.

When I finally ended my working day and went back to my suite, I found Kimball and Ethan ready for dinner.  As soon as Ethan saw me, his face showed concern.

“What’s wrong mother?”

“Nothing you have to worry about,” I said, trying to smile, but I couldn’t hide what I was feeling in time, and since Ethan was a natural Empath, he could feel my worries.

“Don’t even try it,” Kimball said, “I don’t need my powers to tell that something is bothering you.”

“Don’t you know?  I thought they would run to tell you, after all you named yourself my chief of security.”

“Are you talking about the person who infiltrated the palace?  We are working on that, but I don’t think that’s the only thing on your mind.”

“I got a visit from Aziz, he wants to be my spokesperson, or something like that.”

“That’s a good idea,” Ethan said, “now that the game changed, you need someone to keep the information flowing, and who can paint you in a good light.”

“I don’t see the point,” I complained.

“Things are managed differently here, if we want things to remain calm, and to avoid more rebellions, then we need more people to trust you, like you said yourself, if more people trusted you, maybe they would have listened to your warnings about the earthquake.”

“True, but the idea was to stay away from the spotlight, just do my job and go back to the shadows, this won’t let me do that.  The truth is that I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, I was so focused on getting control of the Dominion and get it back to its old glory, and now that it got out of my control, I don’t know what to do.”

“You just have to keep doing the same thing you have been doing.  The plan changed, but the goal is the same, we just have to focus on consolidating our power.  You already established the King, now we will have to think about electing a new Prime Minister or a new President.”

“Remind me what’s the difference.”

“Well, the President is the head of the Congress, and he is in charge of the Legislative power.  That’s a key position, and it would be good for you to keep that one, since they are the ones who will make the new laws that we need.  The Prime Minister used to be elected by the people, well, it was elected by the leaders of the different nations to guide them, but since there are many countries that are still trying to define who is in charge, electing one could be complicated.”

“So first we need to bring stability to the countries in the Dominion, and then call for an election.”

“If anyone cares about my opinion,” Ethan, who had been listening to us, said, “the best option is to call for the election of a new President.  There haven’t been significative changes in the representatives, and most of them are the same that were here during Emily’s rule, and most of them are indebted to you.  Even if someone else becomes the President, they will still listen to your “suggestions” if you need them to move in a specific direction.  That way you could take Prime Minister and keep working on restoring the order to the countries, until they are ready to choose a different leader.”

“That’s actually a pretty good analysis,” Kimball offered, “I agree with Ethan, you could influence the Congress without having to be there.  Also, we need to trust them to be able to do their work without having to be guided.”

“It’s a risk we will have to take, I hope that will give us more credibility in our efforts to restore the Dominion.  After all, the end goal is that the countries will be able to choose if they want to stay with us or go independent.”

“Most will want to take that opportunity, especially if you keep taking the resources of the rich countries to give the poor ones.”

“You think they will leave the poor countries on their own?”

“It’s always been like that,” Ethan said, “most people is selfish.  But it’s part of being free, each person can decide if they want to be good or a jerk.”

“But there’s still a long way to go before reaching that point, we will worry about that once the moment arrives.  For now, I will have to search for the procedure for calling for elections,” I also needed to decide if I was going to agree to the interview Aziz wanted, or if I wanted to remain in the shadows.

Chapter 17

I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, but I had to go to the party, for the twins, for Joon Hwan, with whom I had created a bond of friendship, and for Ji Min, who I needed to make sure was ok, that she was getting used to family life.

The birthday party was at a location outside of the city, and I had to prepare myself, so I wouldn’t be reminded of the last time I had gone to a meeting outside the city, and how things had gone so bad at the vineyard.

When we arrived, we found the parking lot already full of cars, and a security detail was patrolling the area.  My own security force joined them, I wasn’t going to allow anything to interrupt their first party back together, not after all they have gone through.

We arrived at the party, and a heavy silence fell over the room as soon as I people noticed I had arrived, but then, a couple of war cries bloke the silence, and I realized a couple of kids were running my way.  I recognized little five year old, Halid, and little three year old, Emma.  Halid jumped at me, but I used my powers to stop him mid air, and then I turned him upside down.

“Hello little warrior, I see you haven’t changed a bit.  Surrender, and I promise I will let you go unharmed.”

“Never!” he yelled, voice full of conviction, while little Emma was initiating her own attack.

Halid’s parents had been with him at Aquarium, and they knew he was safe with me, but Emma’s father didn’t, her mother and her had been refugees because Faakhir had ordered their murder as a way to punish her father, who was running to save his daughter from me.  I saw Halid’s parents nearby, and after making eye contact and making sure they knew what I intended, I sent Halid flying to them.  Halid was laughing while his parents held him and reprimanded him for his attack, while Emma’s father was getting her away from me as fast as he could, despite the girl’s protests.

“You certainly know how to make an entrance,” Joon Hwan said, as he opened his arms so I could give him a hug.

“It wasn’t my fault, it was theirs.  Happy birthday.  How are you feeling on your first birthday after coming back?”

“I couldn’t be more grateful to you, having my sister with me is the biggest gift you could have given me,” right then Jin Min arrived, and her brother moved aside so I could hug her.

“How are you?”

“I’m good, still getting used to being back, but you were right, my family is not that bad,” she said, but her voice showed doubts, which was normal, after years of being in a bad situation, a person could get a lot of invisible injuries that took a lot of time to heal.

“I’m glad, but you must remember that I’m here if you even need anything.”

“You have done enough, you gave me what I wanted the most, you gave me my family back, and that’s something I never thought I would have,” she said, but I knew that by family she only meant her brother, she still couldn’t include her parents in the same category.

“Happy birthday,” Ethan said, and both of them turned to him so they could hug, then Kimball got his turn.

Representative Jeong also approached to welcome us, and I could tell that he wasn’t happy, he probably didn’t expect us to accept the invitation.  And he wasn’t the only one who looked uncomfortable by our presence, but I saw a few familiar faces, people from Aquarium that knew me, and that didn’t hate me.

I made my way to one of the tables, one where I found a lot of familiar faces, and sat with them.  They all offered me a warm welcome and I could see that people around us was looking at us with curiosity, and distrust.

“It seems that you don’t have that many fans in here,” said Teresa de Burgos, the representative’s mother.  “I told my daughter that she should offer you an apology, but I’m afraid it won’t be soon, she still needs to gather her courage and prepare to swallow her words, it’s not easy for her to admit she was wrong.

“You know that’s not necessary, as long as she stops messing with me, and trying to kill me, I’m fine.”

“I raised her better than that, I expect more from her, she has to do the right thing.”

“Your daughter is a strong woman, with strong ideas, but that’s what makes her good at her job.”

The evening was more enjoyable than I expected, I had the chance to see some of the old refugees, and the opportunity to see by myself that they were all well.  Some of the guests, those who were obviously Jeong’s friends, avoided me, and I could feel they didn’t trust me, I could even feel some fear from them.

The twins were teenagers, still the celebration felt a little childish.  As the evening progressed, some people started to leave, those still in attendance got together for the cake.  I could feel the tension between the guests, and I knew I was the reason for that.

The first ones to receive their slices of cake were the kids, by the time they started handing us our slices, the kids were done with them.  Just as the server was setting the cake in front of me, little Emma climbed into my lap and grabbed my cake.  I could feel how people froze around me, waiting for my response.

“What are you doing?” I calmly asked.

“I want more cake,” she said, full of innocence.

“But that’s my cake,” I said, my voice whining.  “Would you like if I took your cake?”  Emma shook her head.  “And how do you think I will feel if you take my cake?”

“I like cake, I don’t want anyone to take my cake,” she said.

“Well, I don’t want anyone to take my cake either.  Why don’t you ask for more if you already finished yours?”

“My daddy says it’s not polite to ask for more,” she explained.

“Well, it’s not polite to take other people’s cakes.”

“Can we share?” she asked, her eyes so big and her face so sweet I couldn’t say no.

“I guess so,” I said, and she immediately grabbed the fork and took a big bite out of it, then she proceeded to take a much smaller piece and offered it to me.  I couldn’t help but let her feed me, or I risked Emma letting the cake fall all over me.

I could see that Kimball was trying, very hard, not to laugh, but Ethan, who was nearby with his friends, was just laughing out loud.  Many of the guests were staring at me, most couldn’t believe what they were watching, but those who knew me only smiled, I wasn’t sure if they were smiling at me, or the people’s reaction to it.

“I told you you didn’t have to worry about her,” Michelle, Emma’s mother told her husband.  “Kaiserin would never do anything to harm me, much less to harm little Emma.”

“But she is a murderer,” her husband protested.

“You are living in the past, you haven’t even bothered to get to know Kaiserin, she is a good person and a good friend.  You have no idea how much the kids in Aquarium loved her, she is good with them.”

“Could you stop talking?” I asked her.  “You are ruining my image,” but she only laughed as if I was telling a joke, with they were, kind of.

Just as I was trying to seem tougher, little Halid attacked again, climbing the chair from behind and putting his arms around my neck.  The kid was heavy, and if it wasn’t for my powers, he could have hurt me, but with them, he wasn’t doing much damage.

“Halid!” his mother reprimanded, “leave Kaiserin alone.”

“After she surrenders,” the little guy replied.

“Aren’t you going to help me?” I asked Kimball, who couldn’t stop his laughter anymore.

“It seems you have everything under control,” he said.

“Don’t worry mother, I will rescue you,” Ethan said, approaching Halid and tickling him until he let go of me.

“Who would have thought that all we needed to defeat Kaiserin was a bunch of kid,” representative Burgos said.

“Don’t make a mistake, I cannot be defeated.  Some of my enemies already tried using kids against me, thinking that would stop me, it didn’t.  I love the little ones, and I wouldn’t hesitate to protect them, but if I find myself in a situation where my options are limited, I won’t doubt to take any action that allows me to succeed.  I’m a warrior, I serve a bigger purpose, I’m not like you, I was raised to make difficult decisions.  I’m willing to fight for a noble cause, and defend those important to me, but I’m merciless against those who attack me, I won’t stop before anything to destroy my enemies.”

“That’s what I like about you, my dear,” Teresa said, “you are a woman that is not afraid to get her hands dirty, and you certainly have the power to destroy her enemies, you already showed that many times, I don’t think people will forget anytime soon what you did to Emily.  You are who you are, and no one is perfect.  You remind me of a wild animal, calm and majestic, but lethal if attacked.”

“I’m not sure if you are insulting me, or complimenting me,” I told her.

“I’m pretty sure it was a compliment,” William said.  “I’m sorry for being late.”

“That’s ok, better late than never,” Joon Hwan greeted him.

“It’s an honor to have you with us,” representative Jeong greeted him, and I couldn’t help but feel insulted.

“I’m just going to be here a minute, I thought Kaiserin would leave early and I was waiting for her to be gone, but I should have known she wouldn’t be able to resist spending time with the younglings, the little ones always gravitate towards her.”

“Maybe they like her because she treats them as equals, that makes them feel important,” Kimball said.

“There is no need for you to go,” Jeong said, “if Kaiserin’s presence bothers you…”

“That’s not it, It’s an honor and a pleasure to be in her presence,” William interrupted him before he could offer to kick me out of there, “is Kaiserin who doesn’t want me here, and the last thing I want to do is make her uncomfortable.”

“This is Joon Hwan’s party, and I know you became good friends during your time in Aquarium, if he wants you here, then I can’t ask otherwise.”

“Thanks,” William said, moving to a place where I wouldn’t be forced to see him.

“I still don’t know what to think about you,” representative Burgos said, “but I guess that I have a lot to thank you for, and a few reasons to ask for your forgiveness.  I misjudged you, that’s more obvious every day, for the stories I’ve heard and the way you treat people, especially for the trust the most innocent place with you, I can see that you are a good, loyal person.  But I also get that you can be quite bad for your enemies.  You are both sides of the coin, you show both extremes, and I want to be on your good side.”

“Always looking for a way to survive, I couldn’t expect anything less from you,” I said with a smile.  I could tell that it had cost her a lot just to approach me admitting to being wrong, I would have liked to make her suffer a little bit, but I respected her mother and liked her son, I wasn’t going to humiliate her in front of them.

The representative went back to where the rest of the members of the committee were gathered.  I noticed the air felt different, lighter, and I realized that the perception of the people was changing, they weren’t as afraid, nor they felt that much distrust, some didn’t hate me as much.  They were opening their minds to the possibility that the image they had of me was mistaken.

I still wasn’t sure what to think about William’s actions, but I had to accept that it felt better to be able to present a different face to them, and not to constantly feel their negative thoughts.  I wasn’t sure if we would reach a point when we could all be friends, but at least I felt like the number of enemies I had was suddenly reduced.

Chapter 13

As soon as I arrived at my apartment, I noticed we had guests.  I could hear the children talking in the living room and I moved closer, just to confirm my suspicion that Ethan’s friends were there.  I was happy they had visited him, especially because I could tell by their voices and the emotions getting out of the room, that Ethan had nothing to fear about his friends, none of them were blaming him for what had happened, maybe they were blaming me instead.

“Ethan?” I called, to let them know I was about to enter the room.

“Mother,” Ethan looked at me, a guilty look on his face, “we have visitors.”

“I see that,” as I looked around at the curious, but not scared faces of the kids, I realized they knew the truth.

“My friends came to visit, they are not mad at me for what happened, but still, I want you to allow me to explain the truth to them.”

“Why are you asking for my permission if you already told them everything?”

“I’m only covering my bases.”

“I see,” I went to Ethan, and I could feel his friends going on alert, staring at me, they were worried I would do something to Ethan, even if the fear I was expecting wasn’t there.  “You did good, I know how hard it was for you to hide the truth from them, and I’m grateful that you understood how important it was to keep the secret while there was the chance that Faakhir’s men or anyone else could intercept the information and endanger us.  Now things are different, and I’m glad you have friends you can trust with this.  I just want you to keep in mind that you have to be very careful who you trust, especially as some secrets are not only about you, and you never know who can get hurt if you trust the wrong person.”

“I’m sure none of them would betray my trust,” Ethan said confidently.

“We would never go against Ethan,” Hye Ki assured me, “we won’t betray his trust,” the rest of the group agreed on that.

“I know, that’s why I encouraged your friendship with my son, I know, thanks to my visions, that you will be his friends for a long time, and that you will support him.  I’m actually glad that my son has you as his friends, but I also know that things can change very easily and you never know what the future can bring, and even if my visions show me a good future right now, that only means nothing will happen short term, but things can change.”

“You say you encouraged our friendship? You were always against us,” Dmytro protested.

“And what better way to ensure that your parents wouldn’t intervene in your friendship that being publicly against it?”

“So you manipulated our parents?” Iñaki asked.

“You could say that, but I did it for a good reason.”

“That’s ok,” Dmytro said, “I get it, even after Ethan saved us from Jonas, twice, my father wouldn’t have accepted our friendship if he had suspected you had a good relationship.”

“My father already suspects that’s the case,” Hye Ki said, “he said it wasn’t a good idea for me to keep being Ethan’s friends, but he IS my friend and that won’t change, he wouldn’t do anything to hurt me, so I won’t either.”

“I appreciate it, and as I said, it’s good to see that he has such loyal friends.  Still,” I warned Ethan, “you need to keep in mind that even the people who could at one moment give their own lives for you, those who swear they would do anything for you, could change their mind and stab you in the back without warning.”

“Still mad at William?” Ethan asked.

“With him, and at myself, I should have known better, I should have already learned my lesson, one I hope you don’t get to experiment, at least not for a long time.”

“I know, even those you trusted the most could, and in your case, have betrayed you.”

“I wish you didn’t spend so much time inside my head, you are losing your innocence.”

“You know in my position is better to know so I can be prepared.”

“I don’t know what I was expecting, but this is not it,” Oliver said.  “Even after hearing my grandmother’s wonderful tales, I can’t help but think of you as a heartless assassin.”

“And still, you are not afraid,” I pointed out.

“Ethan said we had nothing to fear, and we trust him,” Iñaki said.

“I talked to my brother and he told me what had happened,” Hye Ki said shyly, “and I wanted to thank you for saving him and ask your forgiveness for all the bad things I thought about you.”

“Not sorry for trying to kill me?” I asked, taking the girl by surprise.

“Try to kill you?  When was that?” Ethan asked, and it was clear he was mad about it.  Hye Ki was blushing, feeling bad about the situation.

“You knew about that?”

“There’s little I don’t know.  Your parents also tried that, and they were almost successful, but I have to give it to you, you were the youngest one to try that, and not many people would have thought of something like what you did.  The small robot you used to carry the poison was, in my husband’s words, an engineering marvel, but I’m sure you could find better uses for it than trying to kill someone.  I suggest that next time you take some time to think about the consequences of your actions.  Think about it, what if you had succeeded?  Would you have felt better?  Or would guilt eat at you?  It’s not easy to take somebody’s life.”

“Even for you?” Dmytro asked.  “It’s clear now that you didn’t kill as many people as you were accused of, but you don’t seem to have a problem killing people, and I have seen the recordings of Emily’s death, and that wasn’t faked, she is definitely dead.”

“I grew up in a different place, where my options were to kill or be killed.  I don’t have a problem killing people who deserve it.  You could say I was forced to commit my first murder when I was about your age.  But things are different here, and you grew up with a different moral compass, one that says is not correct to kill, and puts a heavier burden on you when you do.”

“Can I ask you a question?” Hye Ki said.

“Of course, but I want you to be sure you want the answer.  I hope you already realized that I don’t know how to sugarcoat things, I say things as they are.”  She took a minute to think about it, and then asked her question.

“For a long time I have gone over that day, when you let my brother fall in my place.  I was sure I was going to die that day, and sometimes I think it would have been easier to let them kill me, to stop my brother before he acted, but you didn’t, why?”

“You are right, it would have been easier to stop him, but it wouldn’t have been easier on your father to lose you.  I didn’t know the whole story back then, but I knew your father had already lost a daughter, one your brother was a daily reminder of, and I knew how hard it would have been to lose another.  Any loss is painful, but I had the feeling that your father was going to be able to deal with your brother’s lost easier than yours.”

“So you did that for my father?  But…” Hye Ki didn’t finish her thought, but I could see that she was thinking about my words, they weren’t what she was expecting, and she was realizing that not everything they thought they knew about me was true, even if she couldn’t see that my motives were actually kind of selfish.  “You didn’t know us back then, there was no reason to do something like that.”

“Your father had already gone through a lot, he didn’t need to be tortured even more.”

“When my grandparents disappeared,” Oliver cut in, “when we thought you had killed the, there was a rumor, one my mother ignored, that said that Emily had ordered our deaths, and there was an incident when I thought we were going to die, just a few days before my grandparents’ death.  What’s the real story?”

“Your mother was too valuable to die, but since they didn’t assign her murder to me, I asked someone to stop the attempt from being successful, and then convinced Emily that her death wasn’t going to help anyone, and that it would be better to kill her parents, so she could see that the threat was real, and then used you and your brother to control your mother.  Since their deaths were assigned to me, I was able to take them to a safe place.  I’m sorry your grandfather didn’t survive, but I can assure you, there was nothing we could have done to stop his death, it was his time.”

“That’s what my grandma says.  I think that we have to thank you, not only for my grandparents’ lives, but also ours.  You don’t know much this means to us, thank you,” Oliver said, with all the formality the fifteen year old could use.

“Yes, thank you,” Iñaki added, copying his brother.

“I also have to thank you,” Dmytro said, “I didn’t know my grandparents as well as Oliver knew his, still I was very sad that they were gone.  Having them back and having a second chance at knowing them is a great gift.  And I know my father is very happy to have them back.”

“You don’t have anything to thank me for, I was just doing my job, what needed to be done.  You are making this a bigger deal than it is.”

“Maybe it’s nothing for you, but it’s everything to us,” Oliver said.

“Well, I know you didn’t come here to talk to me, you are here for Ethan, so I will leave you alone.”

I got up and prepared to leave when I heard a discussion from the direction of the entrance, and then I saw William and two guards walking towards me.

“We need to talk,” William said, his voice full of power.

“There’s nothing to talk about.  I already warned you not to look for me.”

One side of the room was made out of floor to ceiling windows, you could see the gardens, and farther away, part of the city.  I used my powers to open the windows and then I used them to grab William and throw him out.  Both guards ran to the windows and one of them jumped behind William.  Ethan’s friends were staring in horror at the scene.

“Did you kill him?” Hye Ki finally broke the silence.

“Your brother survived a fall from a plane and you are worried about a few stories?”

“It would be better for you if you could stop doing reckless acts like this,” the remaining guard warned me, “it wouldn’t be a good idea to keep pilling charges against you.”

“You do whatever you want, I don’t care about the stupid trial anyway.”

“You are lucky the King fell into the pond and wasn’t hurt, or you would be in real trouble.”

“Luck had nothing to do with that.  And tell your King that if he dares to show his face in front of me again, next time I won’t be so nice.  I can’t stand traitors, and that goes for you too.  I kind of respect your loyalty, I know you swore loyalty to the Royal House, but you work for me, and if you stand in my way again, you won’t like it.”

“Understood,” the guard said, walking out of the room.  It was obvious he was mad at me and wanted to yell back at me, but he wasn’t dumb and knew he would lose if he fought with me.

“I think that kind of confirms that you are still mad at William,” Ethan said.

“If he thinks he can walk into my home as if nothing happened, he has lost his mind,” just by seeing him my mood had turned sour again, and I wasn’t sure if the fact that Ethan’s friends were actually afraid was making things better or worse.  The plan was to be feared, wasn’t it?

“Maybe you should talk…” Ethan started to say, before being interrupted.

“I suggest you stop before you finish that sentence,” Kimball said, choosing that moment to walk into the living room.  He was wearing a brace on his leg, and using a cane, for a moment I worried I had been to harsh on him, but then I realized that William couldn’t have gotten inside without someone opening the door to him and got angry all over again.

“What happened to you?” Ethan asked, staring at Kimball’s broken leg.

“I finished that sentence and your mother didn’t appreciate it.”

“And as if that wasn’t enough, you go and invite that traitor into my home.”

“I didn’t invite him, I just arrived behind him.  I know you understand the concept of diplomacy, you did a great job using it with the Amazons, and even when dealing with Faakhir, so I don’t get why are you acting like this with William.”

“It’s not the same, I knew what I was getting into with them, I knew Faakhir wanted to take advantage of me, and with the Amazons, it was a mutual thing, both trying to get advantage over the other.  But William wasn’t supposed to be like that, he was supposed to be on my side.”

“He feels betrayed, maybe if you explained what happened with Faakhir.”

“He knows what happened with Faakhir, he found me out and attacked me, what else is there?”  I could feel the eyes on me, I knew the kids were listening and didn’t appreciate it, I didn’t want them to hear more than they were supposed to.

“All I’m saying is that you should talk to him and explain everything that happened, reach an agreement.  You are supposed to be trying to stop a war, not cause one.”

I looked out of the still open window, thinking of throwing Kimball out, maybe he would want to cool off in the pond with William.

“Please don’t throw my father out of the window,” Ethan asked.

“Yes, please don’t,” Kimball asked with a pout and a teasing tone, that instead of calming me down only made me angrier.

“I’m out of here, and I suggest you don’t follow me, for your own good,” I warned Kimball.

“Before you go, I just want to insist on how grateful I’m for what you did for my family.  You don’t know how much it means for us to have my brother back,” Hye Ki said, extending her hand for me to shake.  I decided to accept the gesture and took her hand, and as soon as I did the world around me faded, throwing me into a new one.

I saw a couple of people saying how they were running out of time, then I watched as they reached an agreement and reached a console, typing some commands into it before leaving the place.  The vision changed focus and I saw a young girl, her face extremely familiar, even if I had never seen her before.  She was locked in a room, and I saw how she started to work as soon as the alarm went off, going to the pile of blankets she used as a bed and retrieving a series of instruments.  The focus changed again and I watched the couple I had first seen walking out of a building, trying to get out of there in a hurry, it was then that I realized what was going on and what I needed to do.

When I got out of the vision I was surrounded by curious faces.

“A vision?” Kimball asked, even knowing the answer.

“We have to go,” I said immediately, I had finally got the information I needed to fulfill a promise I had done years before, thanks to the vision.

“You are under arrest, remember?  You can’t leave,” Kimball said.

“I don’t care about that.  When are you going to understand that I don’t care about William’s whims?  You have an hour to get ready if you want to go with me,” I warned Kimball, who only raised a brow and made a huge deal of looking at his leg, as if trying to remind me he was injured.  I ignored him and turned back to Hye Ki who was looking confused.  “I don’t know if it was because of you, but if you triggered that vision, then I’m very grateful to you. You can stay here as long as you want, don’t worry about anything and have fun.”

I left the room, and used my powers to reach Thalia.

I’m sorry,‘ she said as soon as I made contact.  ‘We were trying to stop Sofia from reaching you and William slipped by, we didn’t notice until it was too late.  Sofia managed to play us, again.  Fatima is not happy about it, and we failed you again.

Don’t worry about that, we have work to do.  I want you and Fatima to meet with me at the airport in an hour, we have a mission to complete.

“At least could you tell me what’s this about?” Kimball asked, from behind me.  He was moving really fast for someone with a broken leg.

“I don’t know, if I tell you, will you go to your new friend and tell him my plans?  I don’t want to risk him trying to stop me, I don’t want to have to kill him.”

“You must know I’m on your side, I really think that it would be a good thing to establish some form of communication.”

“I will deal with Sofia and William later, right now I have better things to do.”

Chapter 12

Just as I expected, the group helping William getting the people out of Aquarium was easy to identify, and not that large.  Most of the people in Aquarium had taken the first opportunity to get out of there, not even stopping to think about the danger of doing so.  I guessed that most, if not all, ignored that they were going against my orders when they left Aquarium.

“So far everything seems to be under control,” Kimball said.  “William still insists on getting ahead with the trial.  Right now, I think that’s for the best.  I spoke to Jean and he thinks that he will be able to get most of the charges dropped.”

“There are still a lot of crimes I’m guilty of,” I pointed out.

“Mother,” Ethan called from the living room, “I think you should see this.”

I went to the living room and saw he was watching an interview with one of the refugees that had gotten out of Aquarium, he was a famous reporter that I had been ordered to murder after he had attacked Emily by publishing some articles about her crimes, including her involvement in her own brother’s murder.  His death had been one of the most public ones, because he had been able to record and transmit part of my attack, one that ended with him apparently dying in a fire.  Everyone had agreed there was no way he would have been able to survive the inferno I caused, since all that was left once it extinguished were ashes.

“… and then I was pulled to the sewers, I wasn’t sure if they were friends or enemies,” Aziz was explaining, “but when I saw their uniforms and realized they were mzasiers, I thought they were enemies.  They did something and I passed out, next thing I knew I was in what looked like a prison, but it wasn’t like that, it was a refuge for people like me.”

“Are you trying to say you were ok with being kidnapped?” a woman’s voice asked from the other side of the camera.

“I had trouble with that at the beginning, especially because I couldn’t keep thinking of how this was going to affect my family and the people who depended on me, but as time went by, I realized just how lucky I really was that it was Kaiserin they had sent after me, and that she had been willing to save me.  I know some people think that the people coming back are metamorphs or people that had been brainwashed, wish I will admit could be possible, but some people were targeted because they couldn’t be brainwashed, that’s something people haven’t considered.  Let’s just say that after being away and watching things from afar, we have a different view of the situation.”

“So you think that Kaiserin’s actions are justified?”

“For a long time I couldn’t figure that woman out, and despite knowing I owed her my life, I couldn’t trust her, I kept thinking she had nefarious reasons for doing what she did, but let me tell you something I saw there.  Every month we got a visit from her, mostly she spent her time with Queen Sofia, but also with a few other inhabitants there, and I watched her training a few of them.  At first I thought she was doing that out of some sick desire to hurt others, because she often hurt them, and she didn’t even react to their pain, but you know I’m a good observer, I don’t see only with my eyes, but with my powers, and my empathy allows me to see the inside of people.  Once, during a training session between Kaiserin and our new King William, I witnessed one of her attacks that could have been very bad, but she stopped the attack before she could really hurt him.  If I had based my opinion in her insults and mocking, I would have thought that Kaiserin had no respect or interest in the boy, but, I was feeling the situation, and I could tell that she was worried about him, that she cared for him.  She was tough with him because she wanted him to be able to defend himself.  I started paying more attention to her and her actions, and found out that despite her harsh words and bad attitude, she worries about people and is always looking out for those who can’t defend themselves, she just has a different way of doing that.  I really think that it’s in the Dominion’s best interest to have someone like her looking out for us, because she really cares about everyone, not only her husband’s country, like some people believe, but for everyone in the Dominion.”

“After the new King revealed his plans to put Kaiserin on trial, she decided to put the whole Dominion under martial law and we have a military presence on the streets.  Don’t you think that this only shows that Kaiserin thinks herself above laws and rules?  It’s obvious that she is using scare tactics to try and force the King to ignore her criminal actions and scare people into obeying her wishes.”

“If I had learned something in my time with her is that there is always a reason behind her actions.  Maybe we think those are scare tactics, but maybe there is something else going on that is making her do that.  Maybe if we knew her reasoning for putting the military on the streets, we would support her decision.”

As I watched the interview I realized that Aziz was there to support me, but he didn’t know that his words were hurting my image.  Part of my power resided in my ability to seem detached and unaffected, what would happen if my enemies realized how much I cared, if they decided to go after me by hurting the people around me?  Aziz’s words could be putting people around me in danger.

“I’m surprised that Aziz is giving that interview,” Kimball said, “a person as intuitive as him should know that is not a good idea to give the public this kind of information, especially not without your approval.  He should have known better than going live without first clearing his declaration with you.”

“You are right,” as Kimball said that I started to see the interview from another point of view.  “Someone must have talked to him and tell him that it was ok to give the interview.  I think this must be part of William’s campaign to discredit me.”

“I’m not sure that’s what they are trying to do,” Ethan said, “if that was their objective, Aziz would have never agreed to it.  I think this is part of a campaign to clear your image, but I don’t know why now, it’s not the right moment.”

“That was never the plan,” I protested, “the idea was for me to be the bad guy, and for them to take power from me when the time was right.  The idea was to disappear once everything was ok.”

“Well, it seems they didn’t like your plan and decided to change it,” Kimball said, not looking worried at all.

“This is all wrong, their actions are just making a difficult situation even worse.  I don’t have time for this, I have to fix the situation as much as I can.  If you need anything, I will be in my office.”

I went out, not bothering to wait for their response, the whole situation was getting out of control and that only made me angrier.  I had that feeling back, the feeling that said that I couldn’t trust in anyone, and that was not a good mindset to have.  The few last months had affected me more than I was willing to accept, and I knew that even Kimball had noticed that I had been having trouble at night, that the nightmares I has thought I had outgrown were back.  It had gotten so bad I had considered putting some locks to my memories, but it was something I had already tried, and it wasn’t a good option.  All I could do was to keep going and face my demons, that included to put my trust back on the people I worked with, or at least pretend I was willing to trust on them as to not affect our relationships.

I found Thalia and Fatima waiting for me at my office.  They had become a good team and as soon as I saw them together, I knew they were planning something.  Once I noticed Fatima’s glazed eyes and Thalia’s hand on her shoulder, I knew they were using one of Fatima’s best tricks, one that allowed her to stay a couple of minutes in the future.

“What are you planning?” I asked once I reached my desk and sat down.

“Fatima is feeling awful about what happened, she feels she should have known what was going on, that she should have seen what Sofia was planning, so for the time being she is going to stay in protection mode and help avoid any other surprises, and I’m here to help.”

“I hope nothing else happens, but I appreciate your help.  Anything to report so far?”

“Fatima is sure that William will be trying to talk to you, that’s why she is doing this, she wants to make sure they don’t take us by surprise again.”

“I appreciate it, I don’t want to be taken by surprise again.”

“We will be standing guard outside, anything we will let you know immediately.”

“Thanks.”  As they went to take their place, Ivan walked inside.

“How are you?” he asked, and I could tell he was worried about me.

“As good as you could expect after finding out that your closest allies have betrayed you.  Is everything ready for the meetings?”

“Yes, all the groups agreed to the meetings, most of them were confused about what was going on, some seem to think this is all part of the plan, and I didn’t get the feeling that anyone knew what Sofia and William were planning.”

“We still need to be careful and work under the idea that everyone could be conspiring against us, I don’t want any more surprises.”

“I wouldn’t worry about a repeat of that, we didn’t think we needed to worry about Sofia, and therefore no one paid attention to her suspicious behavior, but after this, we will be more careful,” Ivan said, and I could tell he was confident in what he was saying, but experience had taught me again and again that anyone could turn on you.  Also, I needed to remind myself that Ivan’s loyalty was first to his country, and then to me.  “We have identified the people working with Sofia, and as we expected, they are part of the royal guard, those that are loyal to the crown above all.  They are not a real threat, since we have bigger numbers, and I took the liberty of putting some of our people with them so they can keep an eye on them.”

“Well thought, now all we have to do is work on damage control.  I would like to talk to those that got out of Aquarium and see what’s their position.  Even knowing that Sofia was behind this, I have to make sure who was with her willingly and who was tricked into following her.”

“We already started working on that, we’ve been trying to be discreet, but many of their relatives are making things difficult for us, trying to keep them away from us.”

“That’s understandable, for them we are still the enemy, even if they have them back, it’s not easy to forget that for years they saw us as the enemy.  Still, I want you to keep a protective detail around the refugees, we have to protect them in case someone targets them or tries to use them against us.”


I spent most of the day going over the reports from all over the Dominion, and I was actually surprised there weren’t more problems.  I wasn’t sure when I had lost control of the situation, but I wasn’t happy about the way things were going, despite having the support of most of the groups, and having the army backing me up, the fact that two of my closest allies had betrayed me, risking all we have worked for, was making me doubt everyone around me.  I couldn’t help but feeling that someone else was going to stab me in the back as soon as I looked away.

I needed to clear my mind, and as a warrior the best way of doing that was to train.  As a psychic I could keep my body in optimal condition by using my powers, using my mind also helped train my body, but there were some things that I just had to do, I needed my traditional training.  After being injured and forced to rest, and then with the mess William and Sofia had made, I had neglected my training, and that was something I couldn’t afford.

I went to the gym and found Ethan and Kimball already there.  I stopped for a moment to watch them.  Ethan had become a great warrior, and even if he still had a long way to go to be at Kimball’s level, he was making it hard for him, and I couldn’t help but feel proud of him.  They eventually noticed me and stopped their training to greet me.

“Hello mother,” Ethan said, hugging me, I felt calm and knew that Ethan was using his powers on me, and I could only guess what he had felt that he had been inclined to do that.

“Is everything ok?” Kimball asked, stopping a few steps from me and studying me.

“Everything is fine,” I lied, “it’s just that I had been so busy that I had neglected my training and now that I have a few minutes I thought it would be a good time for that.”

“Ethan and I were just wrapping our training, so I can help you if you need a sparring partner.”

“That’s perfect,” Kimball was fast and I knew he would test my limits, especially if I decided not to use my powers and faced him in a melee fight.

“That sounds like fun, but if we are done, I think I will head to my room,” Ethan said.

“Of course, you did a good job,” Kimball said, smiling.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked once Ethan was gone, I could tell something was bothering him.

“You know that William’s and Sofia’s little trick caused him to leave the school before he could talk and explain to his friends what was going on, and since he haven’t heard from them, he thinks they are mad at him for not telling them what was going on.”

“That’s easy to solve, all he has to do is tell them that I forced him to stay silent, he can even say I put a lock on his mind so he couldn’t talk about it.”

“I don’t think he will be willing to lie to them, I think he really wants to come clean to them and tell them everything.”

“That’s also an option, whatever works best for him.  Ethan knows that we hid Aquarium and the refugees for their own protection, and that now that they are out, there is no need to keep lying.”

“How do you want to do this?” Kimball asked, talking about our training session.

“I will keep a skin tight barrier to protect myself from the worst of your hits, I was thinking that we can have a melee fight.”

“That’s perfect, I’m always up to a full body contact fight,” he said, his voice very suggestive.

I tried to ignore his innuendo, and prepared for the fight.  I couldn’t read his mind, so I had to rely on observation to try and block his attacks, but Kimball was very fast and he was able to change the attacks any moment.  To fight Kimball I needed my barrier, otherwise he would be able to defeat me in a couple of minutes, just one hit could have devastating consequences.  Even with my barrier I could feel the power of his hits, but after a while we fell into a rhythm and I was finally able to counterattack.  It wasn’t easy, but little by little I started to gain ground and the battle got more balanced.  Since I was using all my focus on trying to keep up with Kimball, I had no time to think about my problems, just what I needed, but then Kimball had to go and ruin that.

“Have you talked to William or Sofia?” he asked after taking a few steps back, looking for another attack angle.

“I don’t see why I would need to talk to those traitors, especially since they insist on that absurd trial,” Kimball used that moment of distraction to attack again, grabbing me and pulling me to the floor with him.

“After thinking about it, I decided that the trial is not such a bad idea after all, it will show the public another side of you, and maybe, it could help us long term,” Kimball’s hold was perfect, and my only option was to cheat and use my powers to break it.

“That will only make me look weak and give my enemies more weapons against me.  It took me a lot of effort to build my persona, to show myself as a strong woman without attachments, and now my enemies know how far I will go to protect people and they will start targeting innocents to hurt me.  Attacks like the one in the school will multiply,” I said, while he looked at me with disapproval, but I wasn’t sure if it was directed at my speech or if he was resenting the fact I had used my powers when I wasn’t supposed to.

“But this could also give you more allies, and give you the public’s approval.  I know that you wanted to be the villain in the story, but there are other options, some you haven’t considered yet.  I think that if you talked to them, maybe just to Sofia, who was with you from the beginning, they could explain why they acted that way,” Kimball attacked again, but I kept my distance, just outside his reach, while I tried to see what he was planning to do.

“I don’t agree, but even if I did, they had no right to act behind my back, the least they could have done was to talk to me first if they wanted to change the plans.  I have done a lot for them, and for the Dominion, and this is how they paid me?  I trusted them, I thought they were on my side, but they showed me otherwise.”

“You could fix this if you just talked to them.  At least listen to them,” Kimball insisted, attacking me again.  I was able to block him, but his attacks were getting more and more aggressive, and I couldn’t talk back to him, I was too busy fighting back.  “Both William and Sofia have tried to talk to you, and sooner or later you will have to meet with them.  And if not them, at least talk to your lawyer, you have to work on your defense.”  I finally could connect a kick and send Kimball back a couple of steps, giving me some breathing space.

“I won’t be part of that charade.  If William wants his trial, he can do that himself, but I won’t participate.”

“You need to be more mature about this, this is already done, and you can’t keep throwing tantrums about it, you need to face it and talk to them,” Kimball said, and I could feel his anger and frustration.

“I don’t have to do anything, and especially not for them.  I will keep doing my part, I will go ahead with my plan, I don’t care what they do,” I said, knowing I was being a little obstinated about it.

“Kaiserin, I already talked to William,” Kimball said, and I felt his words hit me like a physical blow.  “I agree with him, you need to meet and talk about this.  William wants to meet you today, and I told him I would try talking to you about it.”

“How could you!?” I felt betrayed.  “You know exactly how I feel about this.”

“I also know that you won’t solve anything by staying away, what you need is to talk to him, like a mature adult.  Do you think I agree with what he did?  That I approve of his actions?  Of course not, but even if I think he went too far, I know that you need to give him a chance to explain and work on resolving this.”

“No.  If I had to see him right now, I don’t know if I can stop myself from hurting him.  If it was up to me, he would be dead already.  I’m tired of people betraying me and I’m tired of giving second chances,” I turned around, ready to storm out of the gym, but Kimball grabbed me by the wrist.  “Let me go,” I warned him, but he only held me tighter.

“Not until you agree to listen to reason and meet with William.”  I could see he was serious, but I was furious.

I tried to break free again, but Kimball’s hold was tight and I knew it wouldn’t be easy to break it.  I focused my powers on a point on his leg and applied force until I heard the bone breaking.  Kimball let me go, more out of surprise than pain, but either way it was enough for me to escape.  I got out of the gym, still fuming, and decided to take the long way back to my room so I could have time to cool off.  Once I was calm, I was going to take a walk in the fog and try to see where this was going, I had a lot of planning to do.