Bonus 5

Ethan knew something bad had happened from the moment the soldiers started to arrive to school and they were called for a student assembly.  It was normal for students to stay late for extracurricular activities, but as the day progressed and they weren’t allowed to get out, most people started to get worried.  He wasn’t worried like the others, he could recognize that some of the soldiers were loyal to his mother, and that made him feel safe, unlike his friends or the rest of the students.

The announcement that they would have to stay there the night was received with surprise, but mostly with fear, so much that Ethan had to block his empathy because he was starting to feel sick by all that fear.  It only got worse when the rumor that both Faakhir and Emily were dead and that his mother was to blame for that.  Like it usually happened, most people started to get mad at him, blaming him for his mother’s actions.  Luckily for him, his friends stayed with him, acting as human shields against the rest of the school.

“What’s going to happen now?” Oliver asked.  “What do you think your mother is going to do?”

“Probably take over, which I guess she is already doing, after that, I’m really not sure,” Ethan said.  He wanted to say more, to explain that they were going to be safe, but he couldn’t do that and betray his mother’s secrets.  “I wouldn’t worry so much, I’m sure things are going to be better with her in charge, she is not a fan of killing indiscriminately like Emily, she is tough, but just.  Most of the horrible things she did, were because she was following orders, not because she enjoyed doing them.”

“I don’t think she will change that much now that she is in charge, I think she will get even worse now that there is no one to control her,” Dymtro said.

“Don’t be so pessimists, you may be surprised by her, besides, my father will be there to keep her in line,” Ethan said, thinking that a reminder of his father would help ease their minds, after all, they all liked and respected him after he had rescued them.

“Do you really think your father will be able to help?  He doesn’t seem to be able to control her that much,” Hye Ki said.

“I get why you would think that, but believe me, everything is going to be ok now that my mother is in charge.”

Chapter 43

When we arrived back in Mzansi, it was late, so I wasn’t expecting to find Ethan running towards me as soon as we got out of the plane, with Kimball not far behind him.

“How are you? How was the Empire?” Ethan asked.  “Did you know my grandfather is awake?  Dad found a way to make him better, grandma said that dad saved his life.”

“I’m glad to hear he is better,” I said, happy to know that Makgatho was getting better, I knew how important he was to both Kimball and Ethan.  And I had to admit that, even if I never doubted Kimball’s ability to help him, I felt relieved to know he was out of danger.

“How was your trip?” Kimball asked, finally reaching us and kissing me tenderly.  “Is everything ok with Greca?  How was your other stop?”

“Greca is in good hands, and I guess by now she is out of danger.  And my last stop went well, my visit to the Empire had a small problem, but overall it was ok.  I got what I needed out of it, I hadn’t realized how much it bothered me to be away from my family, and having the chance to talk to them, no matter how briefly, was nice.  How about you? How are things here?  I hope everything is ok, I need to go back to Capital City as soon as possible, Faakhir is getting angry because I haven’t gone back to him.”

“There is no problem if you want to go back, but before we go, there’s a couple of things I want to show you and talk about with you.”

I knew that there were a lot of things we had to discuss, but my first priority was to get some rest.  I wanted to visit Kimball’s parents before going back to my job, and also, I knew there was something bothering Kimball, something we needed to talk about, but in another place, somewhere not as public.

It was late by the time we arrived to the house, and still, I spent some more time talking to Ethan and telling him about my time in the Empire.  By the time Ethan finally fell asleep, I was exhausted, but I still needed to talk to Kimball.  As soon as we were alone, I noticed Kimball’s demeanor changing, and I knew that whatever we needed to discuss was serious.

“What happened to my father was no accident, he was infected on purpose.  If it wasn’t for the stroke, we wouldn’t have noticed the virus until it was too late and his body was beyond help.  After we found out that my father had been infected, they started an investigation and found out that he wasn’t the first mutant to get admitted to the hospital in suspicious conditions, the only difference was that the other mutants were dead.  From the investigation we found out that the virus is only contagious in very specific conditions, but we are worried about the existence of the virus.  Most think that it’s part of biological attack with very specific targets, but we don’t know who is behind the attacks.”

“What’s the risk?  You say that the virus is not highly contagious, so I guess we are safe from an epidemic, right?”

“After getting some samples, the people from the Health Department found that the virus that infected them was basically the same, but that there were small mutations that looked like they have been improving the virus from patient to patient.  The government is afraid that this is just the test stage, and that once the virus is ready, they are going to start an even bigger attack.”

“But why attack you?  It doesn’t make sense.”

“Our biology is very particular.  Our people come from various genetic backgrounds, but still most of our people share some very specific traits that you don’t find in other people.  My theory is that they are using us to perfect the virus because they want to be able to target specific traits and we are the best candidates for that.  The other theory is that is someone that is angry at our people and what they perceive as unfair advantages that are given to us by the Dominion.  It could be revenge or experimentation, I’m not sure which one is better or worse.”

“I think there could be other possibilities, but the best way to find answers is in the fog of the future, I think I will have to travel there and find out what’s going on.”

“Yes, but not now.  First, you need to rest, then talk to Faakhir.  We can’t risk to make him angry at you right now.  You said it yourself, you are close to finding the last pieces of information you need to set your take over in motion.”

I knew Kimball was right, and I needed to recognize that I needed some rest after everything I had to face the previous days.  First, Greca’s rescue, the fight with Kozlak, the talk with my cousins and friends, all of that had left me exhausted, physically and emotionally.  Besides, I needed some time with Kimball so I could find my balance again, my center.

As it happened every time I was near Kimball, I had no trouble sleeping, and even overslept in the morning, taking advantage of the calm and security that Kimball gave me, with him my defenses dropped, making me relax and calm down.  But my rest was interrupted in the morning by a vision that left me tense and afraid.  I had seen Ethan in a hospital room, and he looked sick.  As soon as I woke up and went looking for him, but as I ran towards his room, I realized I couldn’t feel him anywhere near me, and that could only mean that he wasn’t there.

“Kaiserin, what’s wrong?”  Kimball asked when he found me running through the hallways.

“Where’s Ethan?”

“He left a while ago with my mother, they went to the hospital.  My father is much better and he may be released today, my mother wanted to go and help him get ready to get out of there and Ethan wanted to go with her.”

“We have to go, I had a vision about him getting sick, and I have a very bad feeling about this.”

“Do you think this is something that’s going to happen soon?”  Kimball asked, but he was already moving.

“I’m not sure, but I want him close to me until I know what it is about, it would make me feel better,” I explained.

“Ethan’s biology is different from mine, his genetic map has so many elements that I don’t think he would be targeted, the previous attacks were on people with strong mzansier genetics.”

“You said that they were after something that all mzansiers shared, and Ethan is so different that she should be safe,” I said, trying to convince myself as the feeling that something bad was about to happen only got stronger, and my need to make sure I had nothing to fear grew.

We arrived at the hospital and I immediately used my powers to locate Ethan.  He wasn’t near Makgatho and Victoria, and that only made more afraid.  Without waiting for Kimball, I started heading in the direction I was sure Ethan was, it didn’t take long to realize that I was heading to the cafeteria, and that made me feel better, if he had gone to buy something to eat, then he was safe, there wasn’t a reason to fear he was in trouble.

When I arrived at the cafeteria, I saw Ethan walking out of it from the other side, and I went after him, but at a more relaxed pace, since I could see him and make sure he was safe.  He was just a few yards ahead of me when a nurse approached him.  The woman looked out of place, and not because she was light skinned when most mzansiers had dark skin, there was a small percentage of light skinned mzansiers, but there was something else about her that made me unease.  When she tried to grab Ethan, I put a psychic barrier between them.  I saw her surprise and anger at being unable to grab him.  It was then that Ethan noticed I was there, because of my powers.

“Mother?  What are you doing here?  Father said that you were probably going to sleep all day.  Are you here to visit my granpa?”

“Who are you?” I asked the woman, ignoring Ethan’s questions.  “What do you want with my son?”

“Good morning, I was just trying to see if he was lost, I wanted to take him to his parents,” she explained, but I knew there was something wrong with her.

“What’s going on here?” Kimball asked, he had been following me, but had kept his distance until that moment.

“Do you know her?  I have a feeling that that woman doesn’t belong here,” as soon as I spoke the woman tried to escape, but I grabbed her using my powers before she had a chance to get away.  If I was suspicious before, her escape attempt only made it worse.

“Kaiserin?” I could tell Kimball didn’t understand the situation, and I was aware that some of my actions could seem a little over the top, and I couldn’t deny that her escape attempt could have been just because she was afraid of me and not because she was hiding something.

“I’m telling you, there’s something wrong with her, you need to see if she is really an employee here and who she is,” I told Kimball, starting to get angry at his lack of action.  At least Ethan had moved away from her and closer to me.  I put my arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer to me, I wasn’t going to let him out of my sight until I was sure what was going on.

“Alright, I will take care of this, you take Ethan back to my parents,” Kimball said, getting closer to the woman, but that felt wrong, I didn’t want him anywhere near her.

My telepathy usually didn’t work on mzansiers, and because of that I had forgotten that there was a small percentage of the population that didn’t share the immunity most of them had, and that woman was part of that minority, that was if she was really a mzansier and not a foreigner.  I pushed my mind to hers and I could read her mind, she was waiting for Kimball to get closer to her so she could use her powers on him.

“Stop, don’t get closer to her.  I think she has something to do with the virus attack,” I kept looking into her mind and discovered that she was a biokinetic, and that her power allowed her to transport and transmit the virus, after modifying it to target specific victims.  I couldn’t let her near anyone.  The worst part was that she wasn’t working alone, I could tell she was part of a bigger group that was using the virus to target and eliminate people they considered traitors to their people.  “I will take her to a safe place, somewhere we can keep her isolated so she can’t hurt anyone else.”

“I could ask for the hospital to prepare one of the isolation rooms they use for people with infectious diseases, and lock her up there.  She will be at a place where she can’t spread the virus and would be unable to get out,” Kimball suggested.

“Do it,” I said immediately.  The woman was watching me with a mixture of fear and hate.  I didn’t give her a chance to talk, I just went inside her mind again and started to look for more information on what her plans were.”

I wasn’t able to see the whole plan, I knew her actions were part of a bigger plan, but she was just a small piece of the puzzle and didn’t have much information.  From what I could see I knew that she felt incredible hate for the people ruling the country, especially people from my family, because she felt we were betraying her and her people and only caring about our interests.  As I looked into her mind, I could see Kimball issuing orders and preparing everything so we could transport the woman to the isolation room, where they would be able to study her powers and the virus she was working with.  It was then that I noticed that she was confident she had managed to infect Ethan, and maybe even me.

“What’s wrong?” Kimball asked, noticing the change in me at finding about the possible infection.

“She is part of a bigger group, he has been taking orders from someone else, someone who gathered a bunch of biokinetics and taught them how to use and manipulate the virus to infect people.  She was given the chance to go after the people she hated, and she took it, she has been attacking people in the government and people close to them, waiting for the chance to go after her main targets.  But that’s not the worst part,” I said, staring at Kimball’s eyes, “she doesn’t need to actually touch people to infect them, just to be near them.  She is pretty confident she managed to infect Ethan, and maybe even me.”

“No…” Kimball whispered, trying to process my words, but despite the impact of my words, he never lost his control, he took a deep breath and started yelling orders, before turning his attention back to me.  “Don’t worry, this time we have the advantage, I know the virus, and if I was able to save my father, I will be able to help you.  Nothing will happen to you or Ethan.”

Chapter 37

It was dark inside the moving vehicle, I could barely see a few figures on the inside, but I couldn’t see their faces.  Most of them looked small, I was sure most of them were kids, but I couldn’t be sure.  I knew that the vehicle had been traveling for a while, but I couldn’t remember when it had started, I just had a feeling it had been a long time ago.  And just as I was thinking about it, the vehicle stopped moving and the back door was opened, letting light in, showing me for the first time the faces of the people there.  Most of them were kids, like I guessed, no older than twelve or thirteen.  They started to climb down, all but a girl that was laying down in the corner.  A soldier got into the vehicle and grabbed her by the arm, dragging her out, and letting her fall on top the fresh snow, as the kid was having a coughing fit.  The girl turned to glare at the soldier and I saw her face, a face I had never laid my eyes on, but that I knew very well, the face of my daughter Greca.

The scream woke me up, and it took me a while to notice that it was me who was screaming.  I turned to search for Kimball, but the bed was empty, so I tried to get up in a hurry, with the sheets getting tangled in my feet and making me lose my balance and fall, hitting my head.

When I opened my eyes again, I was back in bed, with Ethan holding something cold and wet to my head.

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

“Like an idiot.”  Had I really fallen in my own room, I couldn’t believe I had been that clumsy, vision or no vision.  But I couldn’t deny that the image of my sick daughter had affected me more than I was willing to admit.  It was Ethan’s laugh that cut my wondering.

“Father said that you would feel like that, mortified about having such a silly accident, but not worried about the hit to your head,” he explained the reason for his laugh.

“And where is your father?  Knowing him I expected him to be hovering over me, worried sick about me.”  As soon as I questioned him, his laugh died and I could feel he was worried again.  Something bad had happened, and that something had nothing to do with me.

“Grandma called a while ago and told my father that something happened to granpa.  My father must be arranging a flight to Mzansi.

“What happened to him?  Did someone attacked him?”

“I think he is sick or something like that.  My father didn’t explain, and you know it’s very hard to read a mzansier.”

“It’s also very hard for them to get sick.  Isn’t your grandfather supposed to have accelerated regeneration?”

“He does, that’s why we are so worried about him,” Kimball said, entering the room.  “How are you feeling?  Do you feel any pain?”

“A little, but nothing to worry about, I’m sure I’ll be just fine.  What happened to your father?”

“He suffered a cerebral embolism.  The doctors can’t explain why he hasn’t recovered yet, and my mother wants me to go and help them find what’s wrong with him.  It’s not my area, but I’m sure I can help.  I have to go to Mzansi, and I would like for you to go with me.  Do you think you can manage to go with me?”

“I will find a way, I can handle Faakhir, and I’m sure that there won’t be a problem if Ethan misses a couple of school days.  At least it’s almost the weekend, so he won’t lose that much school time.”

“Perfect, then we need to get ready, the plane should be ready in a couple of hours,” Kimball was already moving out of the room.

“Wait!  Something happened, I had a vision, something I have to take care of.  I will go with you to see your father, but I will probably have to go to the Empire to take care of this.”

“The Dark Empire?”

“Something is going to happen to our daughter, I have to make sure exactly what is going on first, but I don’t think I have much time before my vision comes true.”

“Malkia or Greca?”

“Greca of course,” I was surprised, yet again, that he was claiming Malkia as his, even if they didn’t share the same blood.  My own father had refused to acknowledge me because we didn’t have the same Family, even if we shared blood, but Kimball never doubted to claim my daughter as his.  “Malkia is in good hands, but Greca is in danger.  I don’t know the details, I will need to go into the Fog to find more.”

“Any idea of the time frame we are talking about?  We need to go to Mzansi right now, but from there we can find what’s going on with Greca and make plans.  I hope my father’s illness isn’t too bad and I will be free soon to go with you to the Empire.”

“Are you coming with me?”

“Of course, it’s been a while since I saw my daughter,” but I knew that he intended to bring her with us, if Greca was in trouble, just like I suspected, then it would give him the perfect excuse to bring her with us.  I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to leave her again, so I wasn’t sure I could stop Kimball if he decided to bring her with us.  It was one of the reasons I never accepted to go with him during his yearly visits to the Fortress.

We were ready to go in no time, and by the time we arrived to the airport, our plane was ready to go.  I knew that we would be in the air for a while, so I took the opportunity to go into the fog.  I knew that my daughter would need my help, and the best way to do it was to get as much information as I could.  I was still walking in the fog, trying to find my way when I felt someone calling me back to the present.  We had already arrived to Mzansi and were getting out of the plane to go to the hospital.

“I’m sorry to wake you up,” Kimball was carrying me on his arms, “but I wanted to know if you would want to go to the hospital with me or head to my parent’s house with Ethan.”

“I want to to go the hospital,” Ethan said, “I want to know how’s granpa.”

“I think we can go to the hospital, once there we can see if we need to stay or if it’s better to go to the house,” Kimball suggested.

“Just remember that I have work to do.  We may need to leave to the Empire soon, so I would suggest to keep a plane on call, ready to take us there if we need it.”

“Ok, I will leave that to you, you have the power to make any arrangement you want, but I need to go to the hospital.”

When we arrived, we found most of Kimball’s family there, his mother was there, obviously, but there were other people I didn’t expect, like Zola.  After a brief talk with them, Kimball left the room and went to talk to the doctors and healers working on his father.  Victoria was sad and worried, but having Ethan there was helping her, I wasn’t sure if it was because he was using his powers, or just because he was there.

After a few minutes Kimball went back, and just by looking at his face I knew things were worse than he expected.  There was not much I could do to help him, I was never good with biokinesis.  Since there was nothing I could do there, I decided to head to the house and focus my powers on what I could do, search for more information on Greca’s problem.  I had a bad feeling about her, but I trusted Kimball could handle the problem with his father.  Ethan decided to stay with his grandmother, but Mbali agreed to go with me to the house.

Kimball’s parent’s house was more like a mansion, and it wasn’t hard to find a comfortable space where I could go into the fog.  I knew Mbali was around, and that made things easier for me, because I knew my body would be safe with her.  As always, walking into the fog was easy, the hard part was to find what I needed.  After walking different paths for a while I understood that I was looking at the wrong places.  I had gone into the fog with the idea that the vision was showing me something that was going to happen, but it was more accurate to say I watched it as it was happening.  What I saw was something that had happened hours before, not something that was about to happen.

I couldn’t leave without enough information, so I went back to the beginning to find what had happened to my daughter.  Greca had had trouble since her sister had left the Fortress, not only because she had lost her ability to use ferrokinesis, but because she had fought even some of her superiors while trying to find what had happened to her sister, even after they kept refusing to tell her.  That had caused the people in charge to decide that she wasn’t cut to be a soldier and that would work better as a slave.  They had sent her to one of the worse places in the Empire, the Northern Mines, where the outside temperature was way below zero, but the heat inside the mine was oppressive.  Knowing that just made the fact that she was sick even worse, a respiratory disease could only get worse on those conditions, and Makgatho had already proven that even the strongest could succumb to sickness.

I walked a while longer along Greca’s path, and I realized that my daughter was a fighter, and a worthy heiress of Kimball, she would try to escape the mine, even if everything, especially the weather, was against her.  In most of her futures she managed to escape, but on those she did, she lost against the cold and snow, she only survived on the futures where I was right there by her side, so I had to make sure to be there.  I had made a big mistake by not being there for her before, I should have been more alert, I should have paid more attention to her, make more time to watch her path, I should have known what was happening with her, I should have contacted Malkia or Dendro and ask for his help before it could get so bad for Greca, or at least I should have been there while she was being transported to the mines, so I could rescue her before she had the chance to go there.  I had failed my daughter, and I needed to fix that.

It wouldn’t be easy to travel to the Empire, especially not to that particular area.  I had just a couple of days before Greca attempted her escape, and if I wanted to be there I needed to move fast.  I took some time to travel Kimball’s path and confirmed that he needed to stay by his father’s side, I knew he would be mad if he couldn’t go with me, but he needed to save his father, I could take care of our daughter.

By the time Kimball arrived at night, with Ethan by his side, I had already made most of the arrangements I needed.  I knew that I needed to tell Kimball, and that he wouldn’t be happy, but first I needed to make sure he was ok and his father was getting better, not that it would change my plans either way, but I knew I would feel better if he didn’t need me with him.

“How is he?  Could you find something?” I could see he was exhausted and worried about his father.

“We are still not sure what happened, the embolism was just hiding the real reason he’s sick.  It seems a virus infected him, a virus his body has no defenses for.  It’s very weird that something like that happens, and I suspect it’s not a natural virus, but one bioengineered to attack people with regenerative powers.  Now that we have a better idea of what the problem is the doctors could start him on a medicine that will help him, but he will have a better chance of getting better if we can create an antiviral serum targeted especially for him.”

“What’s the prognosis?”

“It’s good.  I really think he can beat this virus, but it won’t be easy and we will have a lot of work ahead of us.  I’m not an expert, I don’t normally deal with this kind of cases.  The problem is that it’s so weird for us to get a virus that we no longer know how to fight them.  There was a time we would suffer from viruses, but it’s been so long we forgot how deadly they can be.”

“I’m really sorry, if it makes you feel better, there’s a good chance your father will make a complete recovery, I know you will find a way to help him.”

“Did you take a look at his future to know if he would recover?”

“I was looking at our daughter’s future, but once in the fog, I thought of taking a look at your father’s.”

“And what did you find about our daughter?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have good news,” I knew he wouldn’t like what I had to tell him.  “Please, sit down,” I took his hand took him to the sofa in our room.  “Last night, what I saw, it wasn’t exactly a vision, because it wasn’t something that was going to happen, it was something that was happening at that moment.  Greca was sent to the Northern Mines to work as a slave.”

“What!?  How could that happen?” I could feel Kimball’s anger, and I knew how hard it was for him not to explode.

“After Malkia left the Fortress, Greca started having trouble.  I’m afraid that in her quest to find what had happened to her sister, she attracted the teacher’s animosity.  I know Greca will attempt to escape the mines in a few days.  She won’t be able to do it alone, but if I can get there in time, I can make sure she gets away and take her to a safe place,” I didn’t add that she was sick and needed medical attention, or that she would freeze to death if she managed to get out of the mines alone.

“I will go with you,” he said, but I could feel his conflicting emotions, he wanted to stay with his father.

“No, you have to stay here and take care of your father, you save him and I will save Greca.”

“But…” he tried to say, but I didn’t let him finish.

“Do you trust me?  I will go for Greca and take her to a safe place, you don’t have to worry about anything, I will take care of her.  I know I should have paid more attention to what was going on in her life, but I didn’t, and now I have to fix that mistake.  I will do anything I need to do to keep her safe.”

“If you are sure, take whomever you want with you, and take anything you need.  Just make sure you save our little girl.”

“Don’t worry, I will save her.”

Chapter 30

I got a message from Kimball saying that Ethan was safe, but that he was injured.  I knew that was going to happen, Jonas was a psycho that liked to hurt people and make them suffer, and I knew that he was going to get a taste of his own medicine, he wouldn’t get away with hurting my son without facing the consequences.

“I’m sure this is the route he took,” Fatima said.  She had been traveling to the past to reconstruct Jonas’ actions after taking Ethan.  So far she had guided us outside the city, and I knew we were getting closer to the place he had taken Ethan.

“I think it will be better to stop for a moment, I would like to take an astral walk and explore the place.  If we are getting closer to where Jonas is hiding, I want to be prepared.  We need to be ready to take him by surprise.

“That’s a good idea,” Kulap said, “but make it fast, so many stops are wasting our limited time, I don’t think Faakhir will like that, he likes when we take care of things fast.  He likes us being efficient.”

“Do you have any experience in astral projecting? Have you walked the fog of the future? If you don’t know what you are talking about, then stay silent.  These things take time, and I’m sure Faakhir would prefer a job well done over a fast one.”  Kulap didn’t talk back, but I could see she was angry at my answer.

Our car stopped so I could go into the astral planes.  That was something I could do even while moving, thanks to my double mind, but it was easier and safer if my body was immobile.  I got out of my body and traveled the material plane.  We were close to our destination, I recognized the place.  I saw a group of helicopters moving closer, they were on route to the bodega.  Kimball had told me he had called the kids’ parents, so I was confident that the Representatives were on those helicopters.

“Did you hear the helicopters?” I asked when I got back to my body.

“Yes, and we saw them moving northwest from here,” Yoweri said.  I had forgotten he was in the car with us, but that was to be expected, it was his power, he could go unnoticed in any setting thanks to his empathy and emotional mimetism.

“I think those were the Representatives, and that could affect our mission, we need to be careful, we can’t let them ruin this for us, but we can’t attack them either, we need to make things better between them and the King, it needs to look like we are on the same side.  We need to move.  Go ahead and drive a couple more miles, then take the road on your right,” I told the driver, “keep going for another three miles and stop in the first clearing you find.  We will walk the rest of the way, I don’t want them knowing we are there until is too late.”

No one spoke for the rest of the trip, but it was obvious everyone had questions, even as they prepared for the mission.  We arrived at the clearing and got out of the car.  Another car stopped behind us, and the rest of the team joined us.  Without any questions, everyone started following me, with just one person staying behind to take care of the cars.

I took the direct route, I knew where the bodega was and how to arrive there faster, and I needed to take the short route, I had to get to where my son was.  Once we were close to the bodega, and could actually see it and the group of people standing outside, I used my powers to bring their conversations to us, so we could listen to them from the protection of the trees.

“Your children are safe, that’s all you need to know,” Kimball was saying.

“I think we deserve a better explanation,” Representative Burgos replied.  “How did you find them?  What happened to the people who took them?  “What happened to our children?”

“Do I have to remind you that my son was also taken by them?” Kimball’s voice hardened, and it was clear that the Representatives were on thin ice.  “I was just as worried as you were, so I decided to look for my son, and I found him.”

“And how did you do that?” Representative Jeong asked.  “None of our trackers were working, we couldn’t find them, I don’t get how someone like you could do what we couldn’t.”

“What do you mean by ‘someone like me’?”

“Let’s be honest, what we think is that you and your wife are involved in this.  It’s just too suspicious that you were able to find the kids so easily after we failed to find them, is even more suspicious that you refuse to let us see or speak with the people responsible for the kidnappings.  As far as I know you and your corrupt family could be behind this, maybe ‘saving’ them is just a way for you to try and look good in front of us,” Representative Kozak said.

“That’s enough father!” The voice sounded like Dmytro’s, but there was something weird about it.  “You don’t know what you are talking about, this is Jonas’ fault, not Kaiserin’s.  Jonas wanted to use Ethan to make Kasierin look bad, and we are safe only because the Mzansiers rescued us.  None of them hurt us, but if they hadn’t arrived when they did, the others would have hurt us, badly.”

“Please, stay out of this, this is an adult discussion,” his father tried to calm him down.

“But he is telling the truth,” Hye Ki said, “Ethan helped us while we were there, and his father rescued us, if he hadn’t arrived when he did, Carmina would have hurt me.  They saved us!”

“Daughter, please, let us deal with this, there are things you don’t understand yet.  We can’t trust these people, remember what happened with your brother.”

“I called and told you where to find your children as a favor, but if you think I will just stay here and let you question me and my motives, that I will let you insult me, then you are mistaken,” Kimball’s voice was cold and threatening, and I wasn’t sure if it was part of the act or if he was truly angered by their attack.

“Dad,” a pathetic voice interrupted the discussion, and the silence that followed that simple word was absolute, the shock was clear in the middle of the silence.  “Can we go?”

“Of course, give me a minute.  Just go back inside and rest,” Kimball’s voice changed to warm and calm while talking to Ethan.

“Time to move,” I tell my men, cutting the power that allowed us to hear them, and moving to where the group is gathered at the front of the bodega.

As soon as my group steps out of the cover of the trees all the eyes move to us, a few of the Representatives’ guards get their weapons out and point them to us, but using my power I take them out of their hands, leaving them weaponless.  At the same time my group takes their own weapons out and point them to the people there, warning them not to try something like that again.

“It seems I wasn’t invited to the party,” I said to the people there.

“You just sounded like a villain in a fairy tale,” Kimball said, and I had no idea what he was talking about.

“What are you doing here?” His comment managed to cut the tension, but his words confused me, and even if I was grateful for helping ease the atmosphere, I don’t like not understanding.  “I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that I find you here, in the place our investigation of Jonas’ actions has taken us.”

“You are late, just like I thought you would be,” he said.  “I knew that your priorities were different than mine, so I decided to put my energy on finding Ethan.  And it was a good thing I did that, if I had waited for you to find you, you would have been too late,” as he said the last word, he moved to the side, giving me a clear view of the van behind him, next to which Ethan was standing.

From the moment I realized that Jonas had Ethan, I had been worried about the things he could do to my son, but watching the damage I felt sick and angry, and I knew that I would have a hard time controlling my anger once I had my hands on Jonas.  Ethan’s face was a collection of colors, from red to black and blue.  He was full of bruises, one of his eyes was swollen shut, and a cut on his lips was still bleeding.  By the way he was standing I could tell his torso was also full of bruises, maybe a few broken ribs by how hard it was for him to breathe.  One of his arms and his wrists were bandaged, and from the blood that was showing in the bandages I could tell that his arm had a cut, and his wrists had been hurt, most likely rubbed raw by the rope used to bind him.  I felt my anger boiling, I had hoped that Kimball could arrive before Ethan could suffer that much damage, and I was furious that I had been unable to save him from that pain, furious that I had failed him again, and furious that Jonas had dared to hurt my son.  But despite the emotions burning inside me, I kept my face cold and detached, making sure no one could see how I really felt.

“He’s alive, I don’t see what the problem is,” just as I spoke I could hear the surprise and disapproval coming from the Representatives and their guards, they were getting angry at me for not caring about my son like a mother should.  I turned to where Ethan was standing, and I saw a tear falling from his good eye.  For a moment I thought my words had affected him, but when I expanded my powers to explore his feelings I realized that it was just part of the act.  But I could see his pain wasn’t fake, and I did my best to connect with him so I could ease his pain.

“I don’t know why I’m still surprised by your attitude,” Kimball said.  “If you are unable to see the problem, then I don’t know what to say.  You won could have died today, and you just don’t care.”

“I can see he’s alive, that’s what matters.  And I expect Jonas and the others to be alive as well, I need to question them.”

“Is that all you can think about?  You know what? I don’t care, Jonas and the others are inside the bodega, go and do your work.  I will take Ethan to Mzansi so he can recover in peace.”

“I’m sorry, but you know the rules, you can’t take Ethan outside of the city without the King’s permission,” Kulap said.

“That’s right, the hostage system.  Don’t worry, I’m taking my son, but I’m leaving my wife, that should be enough,” Kimball answered.

“Still, you need his authorization…” Kulap kept going.

“And who is going to try and stop me?” Kimball interrupted her.  “You?”

Kulap turned to me, waiting for me to continue the discussion.  All the attention was focused on me, so most people didn’t realize that Yoweri was moving towards Kimball.  For a moment I thought that Kimball wasn’t aware of him and was trying to find a way to warn him, but then I saw Kimball’s hand move to his gun and I knew that I didn’t have to worry about him.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Kimball warns, pointing the gun directly into Yoweri’s face, that is just a couple of steps away from him.  I hear a few surprised gasps, no one had realized that Yoweri was moving.

“Kaiserin, do something!” Kulap demands.

“Kimball, you know the rules as well as I do, don’t make this more difficult that it has to be.”

“I want you to think about what you are about to do,” Kimball warns, “you can try to stop me, and things will get ugly really fast, or you can let us go, so you can finish your mission and find out why Jonas took your son and the other kids.”

“I think you know what will happen if you try to stop him,” Fatima said, in a voice that pretended to be just between the two of us, but that I was sure everyone could hear, “we will only lose valuable time, and your victory will come at a high price.”

“Listen to your friend,” Kimball suggested with a smile.

“Please don’t tell me you are afraid of him,” Kulap tried to goad me into fighting.

“Kimball is right, I can defeat him, but it won’t be easy and won’t be fast.  Our mission is to find Jonas and questions him, then take him to Faakhir.  If he wants to go against the rules, then he will have to face the consequences.  Think about your actions, because if you leave and Faakhir sends me to bring you back, you won’t like what I will do.”

I wasn’t sure why Kimball was forcing the confrontation, he could have gone without alerting us of his plans, but by declaring his intentions in front of the others he had put me in a difficult situation, but I trusted he knew what he was doing.  With a last look at Ethan, I went inside the bodega, followed by the rest of the group, even if they weren’t happy with the way things had gone.

Once we were inside, it was easy to find Jonas and the rest of his people, they were locked in cages, and they seemed to be drugged.  I guessed that Kimball had used the drugs to subdue them and avoid a fight, and I was glad, because the drugs would make my job easier, their minds wouldn’t be able to repel my attack and it would be easier to get what I wanted.

“Now you are in serious trouble,” I told Jonas.  He was awake, but seemed confused.  “The Representatives were furious because of your actions, and that caused trouble for Faakhir.  You made him look like a liar, you made it seem like he didn’t have control over his own people, you made him look weak.  As you can imagine, he is not happy with you at the moment.  Now, tell me, why did you do something so stupid?”

“You have been lying to us, and I will prove it, then you won’t be is favorite any more, and you and your family will be punished, like you deserve.” Jonas explained, he sounded like he was drunk, but I knew it was because of the drug in his system.

“I will go inside your mind, and I will see the truth behind your actions.  I would recommend not to resist, resistance will only make it painful for you,” I warned, but in reality he was going to feel pain one way or another, he was going to pay for causing Ethan’s pain.

“Shouldn’t we take him to Faakhir?  He can question him himself,” I heard someone saying.

“Kimball caught five of them, but we need to make sure there’s no more people involved, and we have to find out why they were involved, if they were willing participants or if Jonas somehow fooled them into helping him with his plans.  We need to see who is a traitor and who is a fool.  We can’t go to Faakhir without the whole story.”

No one said anything else, they stayed in silence as I moved closer to the cage in which Jonas was trapped.  I used one of my mind to get inside his mind and look for the information that I wanted.  I needed to know who was on his side, who his allies were, who I needed to worry about.  With my other mind I connected to his nervous system, attacking his nerves so they would get irritated and cause him to be in pain, in just a few seconds he was drowning in pain.  With me inside his mind, there was nothing he could do, but feel, he experienced an agony like never before.

Between the pain and the drugs, he couldn’t stop my search, and I was able to get the information that I needed in a short time.  I knew that Faakhir would look into his mind, just like me, so I went even deeper and made sure that there was nothing there that could affect me.  That exploration took me longer, about a couple of hours, and by the time I finished with him, he was barely conscious, he was exhausted by the pain.

Moving even closer to him, I made a complete connection to his system, and instead of just irritating his nerves to cause him pain, I attacked them, damaging just enough for him to be unable to move without feeling pain.  Damaged nerve terminations would mistake sensations, sending pain signals with any stimulation.

By the time I finish with him I’m exhausted, and even if the effort is not enough to cause me a psychic headache, it drained my energy and I knew I was reaching my limit and since I still had things to do I needed to be very careful with what I did.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” Fatima asked.

“Yes, it seems like besides Fidel and Carmina, the others had no idea what was going on, they were just following orders, they thought that Jonas was acting under Faakhir’s orders.  The problem we have is that Faakhir tried to recruit a few others, so there is more people who knew about his plans, and even if they refused to help him, they failed to alert Faakhir of Jonas’ plans.  Yoweri, I will give you a list with these people’s names so you can go pick them up and take them to Faakhir, I’m sure he will want to question them.  Kulap, take the two soldiers that helped Faakhir to the hospital so they can be checked, I’m sure Faakhir will want to deal with them, even if they were acting in good faith, I’m sure they will be punished for their involvement.  The other three, I will take care of them personally.

Chapter 28

I arrived at the hall where Faakhir and Emily were holding court.  It was lucky that I already had a meeting with them scheduled, I just needed to arrive a little early to make sure I was there when Jonas arrived to talk to them.  I wasn’t sure how Ethan had managed to knock him out, I suspected that it had more to do with the fact that Jonas trusted his illusions blindly and couldn’t even consider that someone could get pass them.  I was glad I had trained Ethan to fight against people with illusion powers, there were a few ways to do it, either using his other senses or if he was facing a multi-sensorial illusion, then by using his double mind.

While Faakhir and Emily wasted their time playing games with the Representatives, either ignoring or questioning them, Jonas stormed into the room, going directly to Faakhir, not waiting to be acknowledged by him.

“You have been fooled!” Were his first words.  “Kaiserin’s son is a highly trained warrior.”  At those words I forced myself to laugh, as if his words were the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

“What are you talking about Jonas?”  Emily asked, but I could see that it was Faakhir who was more interested in an answer.

“I found a couple of spies in the servants’ area, I was about to stop them when Kaiserin’s son arrived and fought me, before I could do anything to fight back he knocked me out, by the time I woke up they were already gone.  We have to find them, I don’t know what they were planning on doing, but it can’t be anything good.  I think she betrayed you.”

“Kaiserin?” Faakhir asked, and I could see his interest in what Jonas was saying.

“I have never heard anything more ridiculous in my life.  I mean, I know that Jonas is a pathetic excuse for a warrior, but to be defeated by an eight year old?  I would die of embarrassment if I had to admit to something like that.”  When I stopped talking I watched as Jonas realized what I was implying.

“I’m sure you had something to do with this, somehow.  I’m sure she is looking for a way to take power away from you.”

“And you think I would use an eight year old to do that?  I don’t know if I should be offended or flattered that you think I could do something like that.”

“You have to accept that it does sound a little ridiculous,” Emily said, after realizing that Jonas’ arguments were too silly to make sense.

“You said he wasn’t alone, who else was with him?” Faakhir asked, and I realized he was considering Jonas to be telling the truth.

“I first ran into Dmytro Kozak and Jeong Hye Ki.

“Are you saying that my son was defending the grandchild of the Kozak couple I killed last year and the sister of the boy I let fall out of the airplane a few months ago?  If that’s true, he is the only traitor here, not me.  But I can’t understand how they would be with my son, usually the family of my victims tries to get away from me and my people.”

“It is certainly a weird combination.  All I can think of is that Kaiserin’s son hates her as much as the family of her victims.  But I don’t think Kaiserin is involved in whatever happened here, and we still have to confirm that the guy you saw was her son,” Faakhir said, but I could see he was considering all the alternatives.  “Kaiserin, where’s your son?”

“Isn’t he at school?” I asked.

“School is already over for the day,” Faakhir said.

“Then he should be at home, I don’t know.”

“I tell you, he’s here, somewhere in the Palace, he couldn’t have gotten far, especially if I interrupted their plans.  I’m telling you, they were up to no good.  I’m sure they had some internal help, and I’m sure that Kaiserin had something to do with it.”

“Do you not hear how ridiculous your argument is?  If you want we can ask my son, I’m sure Kimball will know where he is, I can call him and ask.”

“I will be making that call,” Faakhir said, and I knew that he was taking Jonas’ words seriously, even if he appeared to be taking my side.

“As you wish.”

Faakhir asked for his phone and it took just a minute for Kimball to answer.  I hoped that Mbali had had the chance to update Kimball on what was going on, I couldn’t risk to contact him directly, I had to be careful so they couldn’t trace anything to me and avoid suspicion.  Faakhir made a few questions, but I couldn’t hear Kimball’s answers.

“Jonas, the person who attacked you, are you sure he was Kaiserin’s son?” Faakhir asked, and I couldn’t feel that the tide was moving my way, his tone when talking to Jonas wasn’t as friendly as before.

“I’m hundred percent sure it was her son.  He managed to break free of my illusion, not many are capable of doing that, Kaiserin is one of the few.  I’m sure she somehow taught her son how to do it.”

“What I don’t get is how he managed to knock you out, did you fight?  Did you manage to hurt him at least?” Faakhir asked.

“No, he took me by surprise.  By the time I noticed what was going on and tried to fight him back it was too late.  And he wasn’t fighting how you would expect a kid to fight, it was like fighting an adult.  That’s why I suspect Kaiserin is somehow involved on this.”

“If you say he fought like an adult, wouldn’t it be logical to think that you were fighting a morpher?  Maybe one took my son’s appearance thinking it would grant him access to more places,” I suggested, and I was happy to see Faakhir thinking about it.

“The both of you and I will take a quick trip to visit Ethan.  I just want to confirm that the information I was given is accurate.”

Jonas was just realizing that he had acted prematurely, by running to accuse me to Faakhir he had put himself in a difficult situation.  Now he was looking like a wimp by openly saying he was defeated by a kid, or like a liar if what he claimed couldn’t be confirmed.  Jonas’ hate was so strong that I had to block my empathy because his feelings were causing me actual physical pain.

After a short trip in the car, where no one spoke, we arrived to the Black Tower, and went to the apartment I shared with Kimball and Ethan.  Mbali opened the door, and it was clear from her attitude that we weren’t welcome, I wasn’t sure if it was part of the charade or if she was really angry at me.

“Kimball told me you might be coming, but I don’t think this is a good idea.  Ethan is hurt, and he needs rest.”

“He will have time to rest all he wants once we talk to him,” Faakhir said, “it’s really important that we ask him a few questions.”

“Then I will go for him.  You can go to the living room, I will be there in a moment.”  Mbali didn’t wait for us to acknowledge her words, she turned and went for Ethan while I had to guide our guest to the living room.

Faakhir took the biggest chair and Jonas and I took our places standing by his sides.  Mbali was back in just a minute, carrying Ethan in her arms.  I had to admit they were giving the perfect image, Ethan looked so small and vulnerable in her arms that I felt the need to go to him and protect him, but I needed to keep my role a little bit longer.  Mbali took Ethan to the sofa and helped him to the seat.

“Good evening,” Faakhir said in what he considered a non-threatening tone, “I heard you had some trouble at school.”  Ethan looked at me really fast, and then moved his eyes to Mbali, then he just nodded to Faakhir, without making eye contact, as if he was scared or ashamed.  “What happened?”

“I stumbled down the stairs,” Ethan said in a barely audible voice.

“And what happened after that?”

“My leg hurt and I couldn’t walk, so Tau brought me here and Mbali went for the doctor so he could fix my leg,” Ethan moved his leg to show the splint on his leg.

“Did you go to the Palace today?”  Ethan shook his head, his face showing surprise and curiosity.  “I was told you were there,” Faakhir insisted, and I could see Jonas losing his patience.

“No, I was brought here and the doctor said that I couldn’t move for at least a couple of days.”

“You’re lying!” Jonas exploded, and before Mbali could react, he moved to where Ethan was and grabbed him by the shirt, pulling him until he was standing, but as soon as he put weight on his broken leg, he color drained off his face and he started to fall, he was just standing thanks to Jonas holding him upright.

“Let him go!” Mbali said, while she was trying to make Jonas let go of Ethan without hurting him in the process.

“Enough!” Faakhir said.  “Jonas, I don’t doubt you, but it’s becoming obvious that someone fooled you.  Maybe we will have to consider the possibility of a morpher, there’s no way a kid could get inside the Palace undetected, even less that he could fight you.”  Jonas was about to talk, but Faakhir interrupted him before he could speak.  “I asked you myself if you had seen something wrong with the kid or if you had injured your opponent and you said that you didn’t, by seeing the kid and the broken leg, that was broken at school, I know that he wasn’t involved.”

“Of course he is involved, I’m sure she planned this,” Jonas pointed his finger at me, and I couldn’t help but think that he was partially right in his accusation.

“You are one my most loyal guards, that’s why I even bothered to check your story, but we need to accept that you were wrong about him.  I don’t doubt that you believe what you thought you saw, we need to consider the possibility that you were fooled by someone else in an effort to hide the real culprits.”  Faakhir was trying to calm Jonas down, and I could see that he too was running out of patience.

“Will you at least consider the possibility that they were involved?” Jonas asked.

“I will get a group to investigate this, neither you nor Kaiserin will be involved, that way we will have an impartial result.  Jonas, it would be best if you take a couple of days off, at least until we can see what really happened.  Kaiserin, you too, I don’t want you in the Palace, that way nobody will say you were able to interfere with the investigation.”

“If you think that’s for the best, that’s what I will do, but I think that’s unnecessary.  I will be ready to go back to work as soon as you call me.”  I had a bad feeling about it, I knew that Jonas wouldn’t let this go so easily.

“Jonas, come with me back to the Palace.  I will need you to talk to Fatima and explain what happened, I think she will be the right person to head the investigation, she will be able to see what really happened.”  Having Fatima involved made me feel better.

Jonas and Faakhir left me alone with Mbali and Ethan.  Once I was sure they were gone, I went to where Ethan was and hugged him.  I knew that I had done what needed to be done, but I still felt guilty about causing him pain.  I connected myself to Ethan, I had perfected the art of blocking pain at a biological level, and I was going to do the same for Ethan, even if it was harder to accomplish.  I found what I needed and blocked his pain, making sure he wouldn’t feel pain for the rest of the day.

“How are you feeling?” I asked, as I helped him get settled once again on the couch.

“Much better, in fact, I don’t feel any pain,” he said, surprised.

“I blocked your pain, but you need to be very careful, just because you can’t feel pain, it doesn’t mean you are not injured, and if you don’t take care of yourself you can make it worse.”

“Thanks mother.  I’m sorry for what happened today, I realize that I acted on impulse and made things harder for everyone.”

“You were right, in your place I would have done the same, but before you take any action, you need to think about the consequences of your actions.  I don’t want anything like this to happen again, you need to be careful what you do and where you do it.  If we are lucky, Faakhir will continue to think that someone fooled Jonas with the intention of making me look bad.  At least you were right, there’s no evidence that you or the others were there, but I don’t understand how a little girl like Hye Ki managed to get inside the Palace undetected.”

“I took from her a few gadgets that were really impressive, my guess is that she took them from her father and modified them for her needs.  I’m sure that between my father and I, we will be able to decipher how they work and use them to our benefit.”

“Good thinking,” I was impressed that he had thought to take the gadgets away.  “Now, even if you are feeling better, you need some rest.  Once your father arrives, we will have a lot to explain.”

Chapter 27

I was at the Palace’s training facility, surrounded by Dominion warriors, most of them loyal to the King and Queen, a few loyal only to themselves.  I was isolated, in a meditation posture, but I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings, I was paying attention to the people around me.  In the center, in the arena, some people were in a mini tournament that was supposed to help them train, but it was just a competition to prove who was better.  On the other side of the gym, Carmina was practicing her knife throwing, hitting the wooden target in a rhythmic pattern.  But my attention was on Thalia, she was talking to Ivan, something I was sure haven’t happened before.  I haven’t had a chance to talk to her since Madelaine, and I wasn’t sure what she knew of what she thought she knew about what had happened that day.  I was worried because I wasn’t sure if she was an enemy or a possible ally, and watching her with Ivan was making me worry.  Then she moved, directly to Fatima, and I was even more worried, but Fatima received her with a smile and I decided to take that as a good sign.

I moved my attention from Fatima and Thalia to the other groups in the place.  After a while I felt a mind trying to enter mine.  There were just a few telepaths in the place, and it was easy to identify the mind as Thalia’s.  She was still with Fatima, and it was easy to see her in trance, and I knew she was focusing only on me, her full focus on communicating with me. I opened my mind to her, I was sure I would be able to fight her off if I needed, after all, my father had given me a powerful weapon that no one could resist.

‘Thanks for letting me in,’ Thalia said, ‘Fatima doesn’t want to go to you, she doesn’t want to attract attention, but she saw something that will happen in a couple of hours that you need to know, it has to do with your son.’

‘What’s going to happen?’  Even if Fatima had declared herself my ally, the fact that it was Thalia talking to me made me suspicious.  Was she trying to threaten me using my son?

‘Fatima says that if you walk the fog of the future, and move just a couple of hours ahead, you will see what you need to see.  Or you can go inside her mind and see what she saw, but you may miss something if you limit yourself to what she saw.’  I wasn’t sure about her, was she trying to get me to go into trance so I would be vulnerable to an attack?  ‘You don’t have much time, you need to decide if you are going to see the future first hand or trust in Fatima’s memories, but you have to do it now before it’s too late.’

I didn’t waste my time answering, I just cut the connection between us.  I needed to find a quiet, safe place, so I could go into the fog.  I was going through my alternatives when I noticed something changed, the background noise changed, the thump I was expecting never came and my instincts made me lift and strenghten my psychic wall, just in time.  I felt Carmina’s knife hitting the wall in front of me.

“I’m sorry,” she said, with faked concern, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, I think the throw went a little bit wide.”

“More than a little.  It’s good you spend so much time practicing, it’s obvious you need all the help you can get.”

I wasn’t sure what Carmina was expecting from me, but my words made her angry, and in just a few steps she closed the distance between us.  In the time she took to get to me, I got on my feet, ready to face her.

“I know you think you’re untouchable just because you’re Faakhir’s favorite, but you should start showing the proper respect to me or I will show you how things really work here.”

“I only have to be respectful to Faakhir and Emily.  You are nothing, and if you don’t want me to prove to you just how insignificant you are, you will go away and leave me alone.  Just your presence is offensive to me, go.”

Carmina didn’t bother to respond with words, she moved faster that I could follow and grabbed one of the daggers in her belt and tried to stab me, but all she hit was my psychic wall.  Over and over she tried to break the wall and hurt me, while I just stared at her, faking concentration as I made sure the wall didn’t crumble and let her in.  I took advantage of a second of hesitation on Carmina’s part to hit her in the stomach, making her bend over, gasping for air.  She fell to her knees and tried to get her breath back as I walked away, leaving her behind.

“I have more important things to do than wasting my time with you.  Once you are able to hit more than air, look for me again,” were my parting words, as Carmina tried to get on her feet to follow, but I was long gone before she was able to do that.

During Carmina’s tantrum, people had stopped their training to watch us, so I could feel everyone’s eyes on me as I walked out of the place, but no one followed me.  I wasn’t sure where I should go for my trip into the fog, but before I realized it, I was walking towards Sofia’s garden, and I thought it would be the perfect spot.  It didn’t take long before I found what Fatima wanted me to see, and I understood why I had to go there myself, because there were many decisions that could be made, and it was best if I could be there making them and watching how it affected the flow of time.

I had no idea how a couple of kids had managed to get inside the Palace undetected, but I had to do something to stop them before it was too late.  I went inside the Palace, and moved to the area where the help had their living space.  There were just a few ways to get access to the area where the King and Queen lived, one of them was from the guards quarters where I had been training earlier, the other was from the help’s quarters, where I needed to go.  The area was like a labyrinth, with long corridors with doors that looked all the same.  I was lucky I had my powers to guide me, I just needed to focus on who I wanted to find and let my power guide my feet.

I made a turn, knowing that any moment he would turn the hallway on the other side, I didn’t know if he knew he was coming my way, or if he even knew I was in that area, but I didn’t want to warn him, I wanted his surprise to be as genuine as it could.  It only took a few seconds for him to turn into the hallway I was standing in, he was running my way, but when he saw me he tried to go back.

“Run away, get out of here,” he said to the couple behind him, but I couldn’t let them go, so I used my powers to conjure a strong wind that pushed him and them against the wall, with enough force to make them fall and give me time to get near them.

“I just had the most interesting vision, any idea what it was about?” Ethan had managed to get up and was standing between me and the other two, as if he could protect them from me.

“Not really, but if you want we could go to another place and you can tell me all about it,” Ethan tried to use his empathy to calm me down, I hadn’t even realized how angry I was at the situation until I felt his power reaching me.  Ethan was doing what he thought was best, but I wasn’t going to allow him to manipulate me, he had made a mistake, he had crossed a line he shouldn’t crossed and he needed to face the consequences.

“Do you think this is a game?”  Ethan had gone against my orders, and especially his father’s orders, he had endangered not only himself, but all of us.  But the real guilt laid with the kids behind him.  Ethan had been at the wrong place at the wrong time, he had been there when the two kids had been discovered by Jonas while trying to get into the Palace, he had been eager to torture and kill them, just for fun, to set an example.  The problem was that Ethan had been there, he had stopped him, somehow he had managed to knock him out and rescue the other two, but Jonas would wake up any moment and go directly to Faakhir, he would expose Ethan and then Faakhir would suspect me.  “Do you have any idea of what you did?” Without giving it time for second thoughts, without giving it time for regrets, I used my anger and fears and lashed out to Ethan, cleanly breaking his leg.  The sound of bone breaking echoed in the empty hall, and the scream that followed, as Ethan fell to the ground, was even worse.

“Mother!” Ethan complained from the floor.  ‘Was that really necessary?’ he asked telepathically, to avoid the other two from hearing his complain.

“Do you have any idea of the size of the trouble you caused?  Did you stop to think how this would affect me?  What will Faakhir think that my own son attacked one of his men?”  I did nothing to hide my anger from him.  ‘Ethan, our cover could be blown, you could be in danger, and I don’t know how much I can do to protect you.’

“Mother…” I felt Ethan’s change in demeanor when he realized what he had done, when he finally understood how bad he had messed up.

“Jonas is going to the King, he will tell him what you and those kids did, and Faakhir don’t care about age, the punishment for attacking his people is the same for kids or adults.  And what do you think will happen to your father?  With their parents?  It’s not only you who could lose their lives, this could affect your whole families.  I don’t care what your reasons for being here are, I’m sure that Jonas will have some interesting theories that will paint you worse than you can imagine.”  Jonas had been looking for an excuse to make me look bad in front of Faakhir since I arrived, Ethan’s actions had given him the perfect weapon for that.  He would go after my credibility, and then after my son’s life, he would find a way to force me to act.

“Jonas was going to kill Dmytro, I had to do something!” Ethan said, desperately trying to make me understand him.  “I couldn’t let Jonas kill him.”  Ethan opened his mind, he let me see what had happened from his point of view.  It had been an accident that Ethan was there, but it was Jonas’ dark thoughts that had called to him.  Jonas wanted to kill Dmytro, he wanted to make him suffer, and Ethan knew that, but he had gone to battle without taking precautions, he had exposed himself and his powers, not only to Jonas, but to Dmytro and Hye Ki, the children of my enemies.

“Maybe they deserved to die.  They came here with ill intentions.  If not Jonas, then somebody else would have to stop them.” They had been naïve, they thought they could do what others couldn’t.  They intended to install some gadgets that would have allowed them to spy on the King, they wanted to find something that could help their parents stop him.  Maybe even a way to kill the King and Queen.  “It wasn’t your place to interfere, but it’s my place to take care of them.”

“No!”  Ethan tried to get up, forgetting his broken leg, but the pain was a good reminder, and he folded as he tried to put weight on it.  “Please mother, don’t do it!  Just let them go.” He said.  ‘They are innocent, you can’t kill them or let them in Faakhir’s hands.  Let them go.’

‘Do you have any idea of what you did?’ I asked Ethan again.  ‘Jonas has been looking for a way to stop me from the beginning, you have him what he needs to do it.  You know how much it cost me to keep Faakhir’s attention off of you, you just put a target back on your back.  What do you want me to do when Jonas asks for your head?  I will have to throw years of work to protect you!’  I needed him to understand.  “Give me one good reason not to kill them right now.”  I could feel their fear, even Ethan was taking me seriously, and that was a good thing, they needed to fear me, they needed to have me even.

“I know that you are worried that Jonas will make you look bad in front of Faakhir, but what if you could make Jonas look bad?” Ethan asked.  He didn’t have a plan, but he was brainstorming, looking for alternatives, for solutions.  “Hye Ki hacked the cameras, there is no footage of us being inside the Palace.  Just let us go and make it look as if Jonas is lying about us.”  I didn’t say anything, but I was surprised by the fact that it was Hye Ki had hacked the cameras, it was something I had to confirm.  ‘C’mon mother, you know you don’t want to hurt them, there’s got to be other options, you must already have a plan or something.’  From anyone else I would have suspected flattery, but from Ethan I knew it was blind trust, he really expected me to save him.

‘You can’t expect me to solve all your problems.  You made a big mistake this time,’ I scolded him.  Both of us knew that there was no way I would leave him in Jonas’ or Faakhir’s hands, but I needed him to understand the problem he was in.  We couldn’t let it happen again.

‘I’m sorry mother, I know I should have taken better precautions, I should have come up with a plan before rushing in to the rescue, but you and I are wired the same way, you would have done the same, you wouldn’t be able to stand aside while Jonas tortured and murdered a kid, especially not the son of one of the Representatives.’

‘Maybe, but at least I think before acting,’ even if he was right, I couldn’t let Ethan off the hook.

“Mother, please, just let us go,” he pleaded in a pathetic voice, so different from the tone he was using in our telepathic conversation, I felt like laughing at his act.

“Alright,” I could feel the relief on the kids and Ethan’s sense of victory.  “I will give you a chance, but you will have to earn it.  I have a meeting with Faakhir in 10 minutes, I’m sure Jonas will go to him as soon as he wakes up, in about 15 to 20 minutes.  So that’s the time you have to get out of here, if you manage to get out by that time, I think I will be able to convince Faakhir that you were never here.”  Ethan’s mind immediately started to search for possibilities, his brain going so fast that I couldn’t follow him without risking a headache.  ‘I already talked to your aunt Mbali, she will be waiting for you at the service exit in the basement.  Can you get there in time?’

‘I think I can, I will do my best.’  “What about them?”  Ethan asked out loud, looking back at the other two that had not been included in our chat.

“They are not my problem, if they manage to get out, I think my argument against you being here, could be applied to them too.  It all depends on how fast you move.”

“Are you sure you can’t buy us more time?  I can’t exactly walk fast right now,” Ethan pointed to his broken leg.

“That’s also not my problem, if you could stay out of trouble, then I wouldn’t be forced to do stuff like this,”  I hoped he understood that the broken leg wasn’t punishment, but part of the plan.  I needed something to guarantee that Faakhir would buy my lies, I needed something that would help my words have more weight than Jonas’.  “The clock is ticking, I wouldn’t keep wasting time, you have to move, now.”  Without another word I turned around and walked away.  I needed to get to Faakhir before Jonas could reach him, I couldn’t give him the advantage and let him talk to him first.

‘Thank you mother, I’m sorry I caused you trouble,’ Ethan’s words reached me as I turned around the hallway and walked out of his sight.  I felt like I had failed him again, I haven’t even known about his problems until Fatima and Thalia told me about the vision and pointed me in the right direction, if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have been there in time to help him.

Chapter 23

Just as promised, Faakhir took me on a mission just a few days after Kimball and Ethan joined me in Capital City.  Even if Ethan hadn’t said anything about it, I knew that his first day at school was as bad as I feared it would be.  He wasn’t complaining, and even if I was able to see his memories and he knew it, he wasn’t talking about it.  I suggested him to stay at home his second day, and Ethan happily took my advice, and even if Kimball wasn’t happy about it, there was nothing he could do about it, not while he kept denying what was in front of him.  I wasn’t happy about leaving him when he was having trouble at school, but I had no choice but to follow Faakhir and get on the airplane.

Just as I thought Faakhir was just waiting for the first chance to fulfill his fantasies about me, but after being caught off guard I decided to be prepared, and I was ready for him.  When he went after me, I was ready, and I used my illusions to make him believe that he was getting what he wanted, the illusion so real that he finished feeling satisfied while I ended up feeling sick.

The mission was supposed to be an easy one, Faakhir was just visiting some religious chiefs to remind them who was the boss and ask them to stop trying to get the people to rebel against the government, but as soon as we arrived everything went to hell.  While we were getting out of the airplane, a little girl, no older than five, came at us with a flower bouquet, she was supposed to be giving us a gift, but something was telling me that something was not right, and the bad feeling only grew worse the closer she got.  I noticed that the rest of the people were keeping their distance, so I used my powers to try and get an idea of what was going on.  Even if we were in one of the places where I wasn’t familiar with the language, I could still get into their minds and try to understand what they were thinking based on the images there.

By the time I finally put together a picture of what was about to happen, my options were very limited.  I didn’t stop to think about what I had to do, I couldn’t afford to wait, so I just put my hands on the tarmac and used my powers to rip it off while opening a hole under the child, once she fell, I covered the hole with the tarmac.  But I knew it wasn’t enough, so I put a psychic wall between her and our group.  I did in just in time, before the bomb that the rebel groups in the area had strapped to the girl, exploded.  Even with my efforts to contain it, it still caused damage to some of the people that weren’t protected, but none of Faakhir’s group was seriously hurt.

What happened after that could only be described as a massacre.  Faakhir was furious that someone had tried to kill him, and decided to kill every person that had been there to witness the attempt on his life.  I pretended I had a headache after stoping the girl from blowing us and didn’t participate in the killing, but I was a witness, and I hated it.  I felt bad enough about what I’ve done, and watching the blood running was making me feel even worse.  The picture of the little girl refused to go away.  I had been trained to kill, in the Empire, killing was something we did without a second thought, but it was something done on the battlefield, with enemies capable of defending themselves, of fighting back, but the girl wasn’t a fighter, she was an innocent.  She was someone that had been used by others to stop a fight that wasn’t hers.  Or maybe it was her battle, but her place wasn’t at the front.

It took us longer to return than originally planned because Faakhir insisted on hunting down everyone involved in the attack.  He hadn’t stopped until he was sure that there was no one left to oppose him, killing every rebellion that existed.  By the end of the mission I was exhausted, physically and mentally, and I needed to be with Kimball, I needed his strength to keep me going.

We arrived in Capital City at noon, so I wasn’t able to see neither my son nor husband, and they were still occupied.  Kimball was working and Ethan at school, and even if there were a few servants working in the apartment, I was alone.  I sat on one of the couches in the living room facing the wall to wall windows, where I had a clear view of the pyramid where the Palace sat on.  While I watched the landscape and tried to relax after a few difficult days, I felt something pulling me away, and before I could react, I found myself on the astral planes.

From the day I had struck the deal with the lower plane’s spirit I had done my best to stay away from the lower planes.  I knew that the lower spirits were hungry for energy and that they were never going to be satisfied.  For years they had fed on the pain and despair that I had suffered while being under Agmong’s power, and when I opened the doors for the spirit to take my life energy I had only made them even more vicious.  At first I feared that the spirits were the ones that had dragged me, but soon I realized that I wasn’t alone, and the spirits had a different prey on their claws.

All the time, people walked through the astral planes, but we rarely crossed each other, even if I was aware that more people was there, the presence I was feeling was different.  The essence felt familiar, like I knew it.  The closer I moved, the clearer I felt the terror and despair that the lower spirits were feeding off.  Little by little the projection was being dragged further away from escape, and it wouldn’t be long until escape would be impossible.  That’s when I saw the evil spirit, the darkness with eyes like fire, opening a gap between planes.

I moved closer, and the main spirit focused it’s attention on me, I wasn’t sure if it was the same I had made the deal with, but it felt the same, it was evil and strong.  I started to feel scared, and I knew that I had to get out as soon as possible, but I couldn’t, not alone.  All I knew was that whomever it was, I needed to help, it was the only thing I was sure off, I couldn’t run away.

I started to move between the spirits, but it was hard, every spirit I passed by grabbed me, stealing my energy and making me despair.  The evil spirit started moving too, and I knew I was running out of time.  I was cold, so cold, I wanted to stop moving, but I knew I couldn’t.  I finally reached the other essence, so like my own that I hadn’t realized until that moment who it was, but it was Malkia.  I understood then why I had been dragged to that place, why I couldn’t leave it behind, why I needed to save her.

Knowing why I was fighting gave me the strength I needed to finally take Malkia away from the spirits.  It gave me the strength to drag her to the superior planes where I could help her.

‘Are you ok?’ I asked to the astral projection that I knew was my daughter.

‘I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know how I got here.’

‘Your body projected itself to the astral planes, and when the lower plane’s spirits felt you, they went after you.  Your energy is very valuable to them, they feed on it, it makes them stronger.’

‘How did this happen?  I didn’t want to be here.’

‘Not everyone can astral project, so it’s not something that is discussed during training.  And you are still too young to be able to do this, people is usually older on their first trip.  Once someone shows the ability to do this, someone takes over training and shows you what you need to survive here.  It’s even more important in your case.  I’m afraid that your essence is too attractive to the being that inhabit the lower planes.’  I had moved Malkia higher while we were talking, and while warming in the light of the superior planes I felt her essence growing calmer, the energy that had been stolen being replenished.  ‘It would be my honor to help you and teach the basics.  I want to teach you how to protect yourself from the threats and dangers you can find here.’

‘Who are you?  Why are you helping me?  Why do you look like me?’  I haven’t noticed that when I had entered the astral planes my projection had taken a younger image of myself, I looked the same way as the first time I had walked the planes.

‘I’m someone that would do anything to help you and keep you safe.  We are part of the same heritage, you are part of me just like I’m part of you.  What just happened, it was my fault.  I’m at war with the beings of the lower planes, and they felt your essence and mistaken it for mine.  The least I can do is help you, be your guide in this place.’

‘I don’t think it was your fault.  It was me who stumbled into this place not knowing what I was doing, and let myself be dragged by those things.  And I know I owe you for your help and everything, but I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to let you help me further.  How can I be sure that is safe to trust you?’  I was proud of her.  Not trusting me showed me that she was smart and knew how to protect herself.

‘Let me give you your first lesson: you cannot lie in this place.  There’s no way I could hide my intentions.  Once you spend more time here and learn to control your environment you will realize that there many things you can do, like change the way your projection looks and how to move between planes and places with ease.  You will even learn to walk the material plane and reach places you cannot reach with your physical body.  What you won’t be able to do is lie or hide.  In this place only the most pure representation of yourself can enter.  If you don’t believe me, try and lie to me, and you will see you can’t.  In this place we don’t communicate using words, we use feelings, we use our essence.’

Malkia was quiet for a while, but I gave her time to think about my words, she needed to come to terms with what was happening and make a decision.  It was her first time in the astral planes, but I thought we still had enough time for her to take me on my offer and for me to teach her what she needed to travel the planes safely.

‘I feel safe with you,’ she finally admitted, ‘I feel good just being near you, is not what I felt with the dark spirits that trapped me before you arrived.  I guess that it would be ok to trust you.’

‘I’m happy to hear that.  First of all, you need to learn what this place is and how to move in it, then I will teach you how to get in and out of it.  The astral planes are dangerous because you can get lost here and the bond between your body and your spirit can break, leaving you here forever.  You’re lucky that you come from a strong lineage, our people have walked through the planes for generations, and we have a powerful anchor that makes it easier for us to find our way home.  I will do my best to pass to you the knowledge my grandmother passed to me.’

For a long time I was with Malkia, explaining her how the astral planes divided, about the dangers that she could find in the lower planes, the usefulness of walking the material plane, the peace she could find in the superior planes.  I told her how to enter the astral planes and what it would do to her body, I pointed out the danger her body would be in, if she let it alone and vulnerable.  And finally, I showed her how to follow the connection back to her body.

When I finally went back to my body both Kimball and Ethan were waiting for me, watching me with concern.

“Where were you? Did you go to the future?” Kimball asked.

“No, I was taking a walk through the astral planes,” I answered with a smile.  I was happy that I finally had to chance to be with my daughter, that after all those years I had been able to help her and teach her.  I had helped her, I had protected her, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

“I don’t like you going there.  Were you alright?  Did you managed to stay away from the lower planes?”

“Actually, I went to the lower planes, but don’t worry, I did see the dark spirit, or something very similar, but I managed to stay away from it, and I even managed to steal his prey away.  Believe me, being there was a good thing.”

“Who did you rescue?”  Ethan asked.

“Malkia.  She walked the planes for the first time today,” I answered with an even bigger smile.  I was sure that they could see how glad and how proud I was just looking at me.

“That sounds like fun.  When are you going to teach me how to enter the astral planes?” Ethan asked, eager to learn something new.

“I’m sorry, but astral projection is not something easy to do, and not everyone is able to do that.  It’s going to be a few years before we can test you and see if you are one of them.”  I didn’t add that as a hybrid it was unlikely he would be able to walk the astral planes.  That Malkia, the daughter of a hybrid was able to do it was a feat, but I doubted it was one that Ethan could replicate.