Chapter 32

The problem with having the message broadcasted to the whole Dominion was that everyone knew what was going on with Ethan, and soon I started to get calls from people who had mostly good intentions, but that were making my efforts to find and rescue him more complicated.  Most I could just ignore or at least have Karl, my assistant, take care of, but when the leaders that had yet to leave Capital City requested a meeting, it was harder to ignore, and I ended up receiving them.

“Thanks for seeing us,” Natasha said.

“Where’s Kimball?” Kgosi asked.  “What are you doing to find Ethan?”

“I’m glad to see you care,” I said, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in my voice.

For a couple of minutes I heard their questions and good wishes, but then a voice started to intrude on the conversation, a mind that seemed to be screaming and that I chose to listen carefully.  I could tell that the person was worried about someone, the image of that person kept showing in his thoughts, it was an image that seemed familiar, and it didn’t take me long to recognize that person, since he was part of an image that would take a long time to disappear from my own mind.

“I hope it all goes well and that you can find your son in good health,” the man whose mind I had been listening said.  I noticed that it was the same president that had started the whole election debacle.

“I’m sure I will find him soon, and when I do, I’ll do my best to get you your advisor back, but I don’t promise he will be in good health.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked nervously, letting me know he knew or suspected something.

“Did you know what he was planning?” I asked, moving menacingly closer to him.  “Were you his accomplice?”

“I think the situation has affected your mind,” he said, but his mind was open and I could see things that only condemned him further.

“You will tell me all you know,” I said as I used my telekinesis form a psychic wall around us, in case someone tried to interfere, and used my telepathy to invade his mind and see what information he had on what was going on.

It didn’t take long to realize that the man, the one who was supposed to represent his country and its people was only a coward that had been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right moment.  He was so worthless that he hadn’t been able to realize he was being used.  The idea of calling for an election wasn’t even his idea, he had let fear blind him to reality, allowing other people to manipulate him and tell him what to do.  He had realized that his advisor has other plans that didn’t include him a while ago, but he had believed he could handle the situation, right until the moment he recognized one of the masked men as his advisor.

Once I got all the information I could out of him, I got out of his mind and let the psychic wall drop.  I hadn’t been careful while invading his mind, and the president fell to the floor in a catatonic state once I was out and my powers were no longer holding him.  I heard the screaming and could feel the fear around me, my actions, which they didn’t understand, had only made them recall their fear of me, and worked on supporting what the man on the ground in front of me had said all along, I was nothing but a savage.

“Guards!” I called, getting the attention of the guards that were working on containing the situation.  “Call William, and let him know that I need a warrant for the president for helping and protecting the terrorists that kidnapped my son.”

“He was working with the kidnappers?” Kgosi asked, his voice equal parts incredulity and anger.

“He knows at least one of them, it’s one of his advisors,” I said as I turned around and went back to my office, while I gave my guards a telepathic command to get those people out of my meeting room, I suspected I would need it for another reason soon enough.

“What have you found?” I asked Fatima when I felt her entering the office behind me, followed by Thalia and a few other of my personal guards.

“I’m afraid nothing good,” she said.

“What you just did in there is going to cause you trouble,” Morgana said, she sounded worried.

“I don’t care, that man had important information that he decided to hide out of fear, well, now I’m going to make sure all his fears become reality.”

“That’s another reason to stay in your good graces,” Razak said, but his joke fell flat.

“Does anyone knows where Kimball is?” I asked, desperate to share with him my findings.  I wasn’t sure how long it had been since the attack on the president, but I knew that my men must have sent a message to him as soon as the attack started, I had been almost expecting him to be in my office when I got there.

“He must be on his way,” Yoweri said, confirming my suspicion.

I let myself drop on my chair and started to go over the information I had found.  Knowing that my enemies had been hiding under the protection of the government of one of the countries under the control of the Dominion had me worried, the fact they had managed to move under the radar and get that kind of resources had me worried.

“What happened?” Kimball asked, entering the room and ignoring everyone but me.

“One of the kidnappers is the advisor of one of the presidents.  I think that he was behind the plan to get me out of the government.  I don’t know if their only goal was to get me out, but I suspect they were planning on ending me once I was out of here.

“I have reason to think they are Merce’s followers,” Fatima said.

“Are you sure?” I asked, my mind going back to the woman that had tried to get rid of me already, and that I had forgotten until that moment.

“Everything points to that,” she answered.

Once the name was mentioned my mind started to go over everything that had happened with her.  There was a thought that was stronger than others.  I dropped back to my chair and concentrated, thinking about the bombs Merce had set in the Palace while trying to get rid of me, no matter who else got hurt.  I extended my senses as far as I could, going through hallways and rooms looking for the same feeling I got from those bombs, and soon my fears got confirmed.

“There are five bombs in the levels under the Palace,” I told them.  “Kimball?  Other than you, who could take care of the bombs?”

“I could go…” he started.

“I want you to stay here,” I interrupted.  “I need you to help me plan Ethan’s rescue mission,” I added, trying to justify my need to keep him close, but the smirk that got over his lips for a second let me know he knew exactly what I was feeling, even if I didn’t say that out loud.

“Besides, those are not the only bombs we have to worry about,” Fatima said, “the attack here is not the only one taking place.  I tried to look at all the possibilities, but I’m pretty sure there are a few I missed.  So far I know that there are going to be several attacks all over the city, all in public places, at different times.  This is all part of a very elaborated plan.”

While Fatima was talking, I noticed that one of the guards went to one of the monitors and turned it on, the screen showing a countdown.

“That’s the time until sundown,” Kimball said, he likely had his own countdown running.

“Do we know where the signal is coming from?” I asked.

“Yes, it was incredibly easy to follow it to the origin, and it matches the information you gave me.”

“Too easy?” I asked.

“That only proves that it is a trap.  But it seems we are not the only ones they are targeting.”

“Why I don’t get is why so much.  If there are bombs under the Palace, someone has to take care of those, by the way, then why take Ethan?  Why give me an ultimatum?  Why don’t use the bombs to blackmail me instead of Ethan?”

“Maybe they want to pin the bombs on you,” Kimball suggested.  “It seems they are as interested in ruining your reputation, than on getting rid of you.”

“This is one of those instances when a good defense is a good offense,” Aziz said from the corner of the room.  I guessed that after my attack on the president he had come here to try and fix my public image, but I wasn’t sure how long he had been listening.  “If you allow me a suggestion, a video explaining what is going on to the general population could allow us to be one step ahead and avoid them lying about you.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Fatima agreed.

“The problem is that our enemies are watching the transmission waiting for my resignation, and any other kind of announcements I make could put Ethan at risk.”

“It doesn’t need to be a live transmission,” Kimball said, “we could record it and get them to transmit it as we arrive to where they are holding him, that way it could double as a distraction tactic.”

“That’s not a bad idea, it may just work,” I said as I looked at Fatima, trying to get a read on her.  Her face betrayed nothing, but the calmness in her emotions was as good as confirmation.

“Perfect!” Aziz said.  “I’ll start working on something.”

“Kimball, do you have something ready for Ethan’s rescue?”

“I’ve already selected the team that’s going with us.  Are you sure you want to go instead of staying?  You know the trap is set for you.”

“That never stopped me before.”

While Aziz was working on getting everything ready to record the message, Kimball and I started to discuss our plan to rescue Ethan, and then we started to plan on how to find and deactivate all the bombs our enemies had planted in the city.  The planning took longer than I felt comfortable with, but Kimball insisted it was important to cover every contingency with our plan, and have a few backup plans just in case.

Once the meeting was done, Kimball went with a few warriors to work on the bombs under the Palace, he wanted to train them, and Fatima, in how to disarm them so they could take care of the rest of the bombs in the city.  I was worried about Ethan, and only felt worse as the minutes ticked by, we were wasting time and I felt guilty about it.

“Everything is ready,” Aziz called, taking me to a room where he had already prepared everything for the recording.  A few camera drones were floating in the air, while a few other cameras were embedded in the walls.

“How are you?” William asked, he had been waiting in the room, along with Dante, when we stepped in.

“As good as I could be under the circumstance.”

“I heard about your little fight,” Dante said, and I prepared for his reprimand.  “Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if he is a president, covering up a crime its a felony and he must be punished.”

“Thanks,” I said, surprised by his support.  “And thanks for agreeing to be part of this video.”

“I guess that our presence will help the criminals think you are following their orders,” William said.

“That’s the plan,” Aziz said, with too much enthusiasm considering the situation.

Once we were all in our places, Aziz gave the order to start, and turned the cameras on.  At first I wanted to stay with a neutral expression, but I decided to try to go for pissed off and resigned, mostly to fool my enemies into thinking I was complying.

“Good afternoon,” I said, talking not only to my enemies, but to the people of the Dominion who would be listening, “I’m sure that by now all of you should have seen the video that was broadcasted this morning.  In that video I was asked to give up the position in which I was confirmed by the leaders of the different countries in the Dominion in exchange for my son’s life.  Some of you may remember this is not the first time my son’s life has been threatened by my enemies, and even if I can’t change the past, I can do my best to try and protect him from harm in the future.  All morning my people and I have been working on a way to stop those terrorists, and we were able to identify a few of them.  I also found out that my enemies are not only threatening Ethan, but other innocents, as we found and deactivated a few explosive devices in the public space under the Palace.  Unfortunately, these people have been working under the protection of some of the leaders that came to the election.  Some of them took advantage of the good will of their employees to hide, other are working with their approval, for the moment we are working on identifying all the people involved.  The other targets of these men are the citizens of Capital City, and as some of you should have already noticed, the public spaces have been closed, and that’s because we have reason to believe that the Palace wasn’t the only place they set bombs in, and right now, my people are going around the city looking for other explosives.  At the same time another group with my best warriors is looking for my son and ready to rescue him.  We are working on finding the rest of the people involved and any government involved.”

“Before anything else, let me assure you that no country will be punished for the actions of their leaders,” William said, as he put his hand on my shoulder, a sign of unity and support, “but we won’t let anyone involved to get away with it, we won’t forgive anyone willing to hurt innocent people in order to promote their own agendas.”

“Those terrorists already proved that, no matter what they pretend, they don’t have our people’s best interest in mind.  No matter what they say, they already proved they are despicable,” Dante said, his disapproval was clear in his voice.  He also put his hand on my other shoulder, an action we haven’t agreed on, but that gesture spoke more than words.

“So you have been warned.  Your plans won’t work, I’m sure that before sunset my men would be able to find and detain everyone involved with the kidnapping.  The best you can do right now is surrender.  If you let my son go and present yourselves to the police, then your punishment won’t be as severe.  To avoid danger, I ask the citizens of Capital City to stay in your homes, I’ll let you know as soon as we have secured the city.  Thanks.”

Aziz smiled and gave us two thumbs up to let us know everything had turned up as planned.  “That was perfect,” he said, “and the best part is that I won’t need to edit anything, and that will make it seem more real.”

“I didn’t know you were considering editing the video,” Dante said, and his voice made it clear he didn’t like the idea.

“Not the content,” Aziz made sure to clarify, “Just the timing and things like that, not the content, but I won’t have to now.”

“Do you need help with anything else?” William asked.

“No, I’ll go with Kimball, he must have the team ready, we will go to where Ethan is being held, and will do everything in our power to come back with him safe and sane.”

“Good luck,” Dante said.

“Be careful,” William asked.

“Thanks.”

I trusted they would be able to take care of what was going on in the city, I had to take care of Ethan and the people who had dared to kidnap him.  I arrived at the basement and headed to the garage, the team was ready and Kimball was waiting for me with the vehicle’s door open, but before I could head in his direction, Konstantinos stepped in my way.

“Can I have a minute?”

“I really don’t have time, can it wait?” I asked, trying not to let him see how much his interruption bothered me.

“I have no task assigned,” he said, and it made me angry that he was holding me for something like that, “in this mission my abilities were not required, but I know you will face many challenges, and if my work and abilities have no use, then I want to offer my energy.” That was not what I was expecting.

“Do you understand what you are offering?”

“I know that some of your most amazing feats were done thanks to your ability of taking other people’s energy.  You have already taken a little bit of mine in a couple of occasions, because of that, if that’s all I can do, that’s what I want to do.  I don’t have any missions, so you can take as much energy as you want.”

“I don’t think you understand what that implies or how it could affect you.”

“I have thought a lot about it, so please, let me help you this way if that’s all I can do.  I don’t care if I end up in the hospital for a few days after this.”

I knew that the challenges waiting for me were big, and he was right, more energy would help me a lot and could allow me to even surpass my limits while minimizing the risks.

“I thank you for your sacrifice,” I said, before putting my hands on his chest and establishing a connection that allowed me to see the energy around him.  I started to pull his energy into me, being careful with how much I pulled.  When I cut the connection Konstantinos could barely stay on his feet, but other than that he seemed fine.

“Good luck,” he said.

I smiled, thanking him for his help, while I moved again to the vehicle, from where my people was watching with curiosity, even if I could feel some impatience in them.  As soon as I got inside the vehicle Kimball closed the door and went around the car to get to his seat, as soon as he closed his door, the vehicle started moving.  Kimball looked at me, but didn’t question me, I knew he understood what had happened, and since he wasn’t commenting about it, he approved, knowing that I was better prepared to face the fight.

“I will go into the astral planes,” I told my people.  “I’ll be making sure that we don’t find any surprises in our way, and as soon as we arrive I will try to explore the place, so wait for me to return to my body before you make any movement.”

“Understood,” Kimball said.  “Be careful.”

“Always.”

Moving in the astral planes was much easier, so I had no problem staying with the car, even ahead of it, making sure there were no ambushes or other surprises waiting for us.  The streets were deserted and for a moment I considered the fact that our enemies could notice that something was going on and warn the kidnappers.  But there were no reasons to worry, we arrived at our destination without trouble.  The vehicle stopped a few blocks from the building, and my astral projection was able to explore freely, since there were no other projections around I was able to identify a few of the traps.  I trusted that with Lukas’ powers we would be able to move closer without being seen, and that Kimball would be able to take care of most of the traps, both mechanical and electronic.  Whatever he couldn’t control, I hoped I would be able to neutralize.  When I went back to my body everyone was ready to move.

“I think I will use one of Fatima’s techniques and will go into the fog to keep an eye on the near future.”

“If that’s the case, you will need someone to transport you,” Uktam said, “I know that I’m not your first choice, but it would be my honor to move you.”

“You are right, you are not my first choice, but that way I can stay in the fog longer and don’t worry about how to move, we will advance faster.”

I let Uktam take me in his arms, and we started moving towards the first obstacle.  I knew that inside the building, Ethan was waiting, and I couldn’t wait to be with him and make sure that he was alright.

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Chapter 31

By night time the news about the leaders choosing me as the Prime Minister had already spread all around the Dominion.  Not everyone was happy about the news, as expected, but to my great surprise, most people had reacted in a positive way to the news.  In many places, people were celebrating my win, and the different networks were reporting the news in a positive way.  People weren’t just accepting me, they were happy about me being their Prime Minister.

“It feels good to know that people love you and respect you, doesn’t it?” Kimball asked, and once again I had to wonder if he couldn’t read my mind.

“I wasn’t expecting such a positive response from them,” I said.  We had just arrived to my office and were getting ready to start the day, but at the same time I was a little distracted by what had happened the day before.  I had so many projects that I wanted to make reality, projects that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to work with, but that once again were in my hands, and it felt so good.

“You have done a good job and people love you.  It’s the consequence of your actions.  As long as you keep working for them, the people will keep supporting you.  You can feel proud of everything you have achieved so far, and take the results of the elections as a validation of your good work,” I couldn’t help but smile at his words, grateful for having someone like him by my side.

The situation couldn’t be better, but suddenly I was hit by a bad feeling, the sensation so powerful that it was making me physically ill.  I haven’t felt like that in a long time, and for a moment I expected an assassin to jump from the shadows and attack me, or maybe for the building to fall around me, but nothing was happening, which could only mean that the danger wasn’t there yet, but it was rapidly approaching.

“Something very bad is going to happen,” I told Kimball, but as always he could read me like an open book, and he was already moving closer to me to see what was going on with me.

“A vision?” he asked, but I could tell he already knew that wasn’t the case.

“Just a bad feeling, but a strong one.  Something very bad is going to happen, or is already going on.”

Kimball went to work immediately.  I wasn’t sure what he was doing, but I knew he was working on reinforcing the security and covering all the different possibilities.

I wasn’t sure what to do, I could go into the fog, but I didn’t want to be in a vulnerable position in case something happened, the bad feeling was too strong and was distracting me, making it hard to know how to act.  But even if going into the fog was too risky, I still had other options that would allow me to act, while still being aware of my environment, and one of them was astral projection, so I went to my seat and prepared to step into the astral planes.  At first I stayed in the material plane, staying close while I looked for possible threats in the area around me.  I usually asked for sentries to be posted in the astral planes, so once I made sure nothing was going on in the material plane, I moved down to talk to the sentry on the inferior plane, and then moved to do the same with the one in the superior planes.  I went back to my body just a few minutes after I had left it and I found Kimball waiting for me.

“Everything ok?” I asked, the bad feeling as strong as before.

“I tried to get in contact with all our guards to let them know they needed to be extra alert, to let them know there could be danger.”

“And what’s the problem?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to hear the answer.

“I couldn’t get in contact with the warriors that took Ethan to school this morning,” he said, before going silent, I knew there was more he wasn’t saying, and I didn’t want to listen, but he kept going, “the school doesn’t have any records of Ethan arriving this morning.”

“Maybe they’re still on their way,” I said, denying reality.

“He should have been there half an hour ago.  When I talked to my people, they informed me that once they lost communication a new group was sent to look for them, but so far they haven’t found anything.”  I felt sick, Ethan was in danger, again, and I had done nothing to stop it, I haven’t even seen it coming.  I had failed him again.  “Kaiserin, don’t worry, everything is going to be ok, I’m sure we will find him.”

I trusted Kimball, he knew what he was doing, and he had control over our resources and my people, I knew he had already contacted them, still I extended my mind to talk to Fatima, when I didn’t find her, I looked for Thalia.

Thalia?  Are you with Fatima?‘ I asked once the contact was established.

I’m with her,‘ she confirmed, ‘right now she is in the fog trying to reconstruct what happened to Ethan and his guards.  As soon as she gets out I will talk to you and give our report.

Thanks Thalia, keep me updated.

I felt like I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what, I couldn’t go to the fog, to look to the possibilities and explore the future Fatima was enough.  It was tempting to loot to the future, but I knew that at the moment it was also a risk, I was too distracted with the bad feeling getting all my attention.

“You need to see this,” Ivan appeared in the middle of the room, he turned one of the monitors on and we found the blurred images of a group of people in the screen.

“… fooled us for too long.  But the image she pretends to sell is just an illusion…” one of the masked men was saying.

“What is this?” I asked, the bad feeling getting worse, if that was even possible, as I watched the screen.

“It’s a broadcasting that started a few minutes ago,” Ivan said, “we think this could be related to Ethan’s disappearance.”

“… she has made us think she is a benign leader, that she worries about us, and she is even willing to sacrifice herself for us.  She even made us think she was willing to leave her position as leader of the Dominion, but then she used her powers to force the leaders to vote for her.”  Something in the way he was talking made me believe he could have been behind the whole election thing.  “But once again we have the chance to show you that that woman is only interested in herself.”

“Have you tried to trace the transmission?” Kimball asked.

“We have people working on that, but you know that Fatima is one of our best tecnopaths and she is already working on Ethan’s possible kidnapping.  We have other people working on that, but so far we haven’t been able to trace it.”

“I think that Fatima will arrive at the same place no matter what route she takes, I think that those people are behind what happened to Ethan.  We need to find them as soon as possible,” and that would be possible even faster with my help, I was positive I could find Ehtan, and as soon as I had a better idea of what we were dealing with, I was going to go to the astral planes or go into the fog to find him.

“… has an option.  She has until sunset to give up her position as Prime Minister and allow us to elect someone else, if she doesn’t,” the image changed and I could see Ethan there, tied up to a chair, “we will be forced to take an innocent’s life.”

“If you can call someone who shares that murder’s blood an innocent,” said another one of the masked men.

“Do you want to say something to your mother?” one of the men asked.

“Yes,” Ethan said, his voice strong and with no trace of fear, “when you find them, show them no merc…” he couldn’t finish his sentence, and I could see his body tense and his jaw locked and I could tell he was in pain and trying to mask it.  His eyes full of hate and he glared at the masked men was very telling, he wasn’t like that.  Something very bad was going on there.

“We will be monitoring the networks, waiting for your official resignation.  If we don’t see it, then young Ethan will die,” after that, the screen went blank for a moment and then started again.

“That’s a repetition of the message, I already watched that part,” Ivan said.  “It seems we were right, they have Ethan.  We will focus all our efforts in finding him as soon as possible.”

“I would tell you to focus all our efforts to find him, but now that I know what’s going on, I think I will be able to find him easily, but something else doesn’t fit, I got the impression they are trying to distract us.  No matter how much they want to underestimate me, and no matter how much I tried to pretend I don’t care about Ethan, they must know that as soon as I get that message I will go looking for them,” the way I was feeling was telling me that I was missing something, that I needed to step back and get a good reading of the situation.

“I think the same.  There’s something that doesn’t feel right about this,” Kimball agreed.  “I think they want to distract us, keep us looking for Ethan while they do something else.  Instead of focusing on Ethan, I want you to increase the security around the Palace.  Close the place up and start a deep sweep of the place.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea to look at the Towers and the school.  Can you find for Ethan?”

“It’s easier to see the past in the fog, the path is already set, the problem with the future is that there are multiple paths and possibilities.  If you give me a few minutes I can go back and see what happened this morning.  Meanwhile, I want you to find Fatima and tell her to look to the future and what these people could be planning, it would be a waste of time if we are both looking at the same thing.”

“It seems like a good idea.  I’ll start working on assembling a group to go looking for Ethan,” Kimball said.  “I trust you will be able to keep the buildings secure.”

“Leave that to me,” Ivan said.  “Anything you need, you know you only need to call.”

“I need to leave for a minute,” Kimball said, “Yoweri, keep Kaiserin safe while she is in the fog.”

“You can trust me,” Yoweri said from the corner where he had been all along, even if I had forgotten for a minute.

Going into the fog was always an interesting experience, time ceased to have meaning, no matter how much I knew that I needed to be fast.  Finding Ethan’s path was easy, his life was entwined with mine.  I could see a few other paths crisscrossing mine and trying to get my attention, but I focussed on Ethan’s, and found Fatima walking that path.

Kaiserin,‘ I could tell she was worried about something, ‘Thalia talked to me and let me know that you wanted me to see forward.

I think that our enemy is planning something big, and I want to know what.

Be careful with what you find, don’t let your emotion get the better of you,‘ she warned before walking forward in the fog.

I started to move, I decided I needed to see everything that had happened so I could have a better idea of what was going on.  I walked to the moment they had been ambushed and watched as my men tried to defend Ethan, but had failed.  I even saw Ethan trying to fight back, but they had used something that had put them out of combat.  I watched as they executed my men, but I couldn’t stop and mourn them, I would give them the farewell they deserved once I made sure Ethan was safe.  I watched as they took Ethan away.

Just as I had expected, they took him to a warehouse at the fringe of the city, since they didn’t have time to take him farther away.  While I moved in his timeline I realized they it was a trap, and that the people that had taken him didn’t care who was hurt, as long as they could hurt me too.  I could see that Ethan was in trouble, I could see they were hurting him, even as he did his best to stay strong.  The last thing I saw was him, still tied to the same chair, apparently unable to move, but I could see something else was going on, his stare too intense.

After that moment in time his path started to branch off into multiple paths, so I knew that at least in the present, he was still safe, all I need to do was get to him, while avoiding all the traps they had set for me.  It wasn’t an easy task, but I had to find a way to reach him.  Once again, Ethan had ended in a difficult situation because of me, and I needed to right that wrong, no matter what I had to do, I would save him.

Chapter 25

We have been walking for just a few minutes when I noticed that my men were getting nervous, stopping and looking around us, and then I noticed something they haven’t, someone was approaching the group, but it wasn’t a person, it was an astral projection.  Not everyone in my group could see an astral projection, so I wasn’t sure if that was the source of their uneasiness, or if there was something else, maybe we were close to the Slavers or in the path of the Imperialists.  But that wasn’t important at the moment, Malkia was risking a lot by looking for me in an astral form, so I couldn’t let her alone, I needed to go see her and talk to her.

“Everything is ok,” I assured them.  “Ivan, take the rest of the men and start preparing the vehicles for our departure, I’ll be with you in a minute.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to stay behind, alone,” Ivan said.

“I’ll stay with her,” Yoweri offered.

“It’s not necessary,” I started to protest, but Thalia noticed Malkia at that moment.

“We are being watched,” she said, worried.

“That’s my daughter, I just need to go into the astral planes for a moment to talk to her,” I noticed right away they were not happy with my plan.  “Ok, if you don’t want me to be alone, Yoweri can stay behind, but the rest of you need to go.  Start the preparations, this won’t take long.”

They weren’t happy, but they finally followed my orders and moved away.  I could see Malkia’s projection, and I could tell she was watching the group getting away with curiosity.  I didn’t want to make her wait, so I sat with my back to one of the trees, and went into the astral planes, knowing Yoweri would guard my body.  Malkia was watching my body with curiosity, and I could tell she was watching Yoweri as well, he wasn’t the kind of person you could easily find in the Empire, and that was making her curios.

Greeting, my daughter.  I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you in time about the attack, but I couldn’t find you in the astral planes,‘ I told her once I walked into the material plane.  ‘Would you like to go into higher planes to talk?‘  The material plane was the harder place to stay, it required more focus and energy, so it was better for both of us to move up.

Of course, it would be easier to talk there,‘ Malkia accepted, still staring at my body.  ‘I always thought that we looked the same here because you chose to represent yourself that way.  To be honest, for a long time I even thought you were just a fragment of my imagination, or maybe an hallucination or something that only lived in the astral planes.

How are you my child?  Did the help arrive on time?‘ I asked, ignoring her words.

Yes, I don’t know who you sent, but someone arrived before the Slavers did, and then Antrax arrived a little later.  How did you know I was in danger?

I know a lot of things, and I always try to stay up to date in what is going on in here.  I knew the Slavers were planning to attack, and knowing someone in your clan was going to help them, I decided to lend a hand.  I couldn’t let them take you away and make you a slave.

Thanks,‘ I could feel the emotion behind her words, and I could tell how difficult the situation was for her.  Maybe it had been easier for her to think of me as an illusion, seeing my real body seemed to affect her a lot.  ‘Why are you going?  Why don’t you come with me?

I can’t do that, for so many reasons.  This is not the place for me, and even if I would love to stay with you, I can’t, and I know you won’t come with me, your place is here,‘ I could see she was trying to fight my words, but she couldn’t, she would never leave Antrax.

I don’t want you to leave,‘ she finally said.

If I could, I would stay.  But if you even need me again, I will be here.

I have needed you before, and this is the first time I see you.

You know that’s not true, I have been there for you before, I’ve been your guide in the astral planes, and if I wasn’t there for you on other occasions, it’s because I knew you didn’t need me.  Even now, I know you would eventually been able to escape the Slavers, but not before they had a chance to hurt you.  They have mastered the art of breaking people, and even if you would have healed eventually, that’s not an experience I wanted you to have, and if I had even a small chance of helping, then I had to.  You are a great warrior, and you didn’t need to live through that to prove it.

Mother…

I’ll be there for you any time you need me, but right now, you need to go back to your body, the day it’s not over yet, and you still have a lot of work to do.  Just be careful, Gargan wasn’t the only one working with the Slavers, you are still in danger.

I’ll be careful, they won’t take me off guard again.  I would like to see you again, and not because I’m in danger.

I’ll try to look for you again, I won’t let time pass again.  Maybe now that you have see with your own eyes that I’m real, we can have a talk, but I have to warn you there are things I can’t discuss, for you own safety.

Then we will talk later, mother,‘ with those words, Malkia’s projection started to fade.

As soon as I went back to my body I noticed something was wrong, Yoweri was on guard, and as soon as I felt the mind brushing mine, I understood why he was so tense.

“Don’t worry Yoweri, I know the group walking our way, and they are not a danger to us, I just need to talk to a couple of them, that’s all.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, I think we should go, the group is too big, and I’m not sure the two of us will be able to stop them if they decide to fight.”

“It will be ok, they won’t hurt me, trust me.”

Not long after I felt the group moving around us, and then a couple of warriors walked out to the open.

“Identify yourself,” one of them ordered.

“Shouldn’t you be looking for the Slavers?” I asked.

“Kaiserin?” Ratri asked.

“We were told you were behind this,” Echrad said, I didn’t hear her giving any order, but I felt the rest of her group moving away, “but I never thought I would find you here.  It’s been so long that I was convinced you were dead, that’s the only explanation I could think of for why you have stayed away, until Geb convinced me that you had your reasons for not coming back.  Trajan said something similar.”

“I won’t give you more excuses, I know that what I did was wrong, and that I disappointed you.”

“Trajan said that you told him that the Slavers were back.  Rumor is you warned him about them the first time too,” Echrad said.

“When I met them, I found out they were planning on attacking the Empire, and I knew that I had to warn you.  This time it was even more important for me to stop them.  I know that I have no right to ask anything of you, but I trusted Dendro with something very important to me, and now I’m asking you to stop the Slavers and to make them pay for what they tried to do today.  I’m sure that once you go to the Assassins you will know what I’m talking about, and that you will help me protect the secret.  Despite everything that has happened, I still trust you, and I hope you still respect me enough to grant me this favor.”

“I still owe you,” Echrad said, ” and whatever you need, you can trust me to help you.  I know you have your reasons for doing what you did, and if the rumors are true, then I don’t blame you for acting this way.”

“That means a lot to me.”

“And you mean a lot to us,” Ratri said, “it hurt a lot when you left, but I can’t be mad at you anymore.”

“I would like to stay and talk so more, explain to you what really happened and why I did what I did, but I have a lot of work to do, and you still need to go and clean up Gargan’s mess.”

“Gargan was the one who contacted the Slavers?” Echrad asked.

“That’s right, but he wasn’t acting alone, in fact, I’m not sure he was the first or the only to talk to the Slavers.”

“I don’t mean to offend you,” Ratri said, “but I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be alone, the Slavers could be near here.”

“We could take you to where you need to go,” Echrad said, “you won’t get far with only one bodyguard, I promise we won’t try anything against you.”

“A bodyguard?”

“She is good,” Yoweri said just as Ratri questioned about the bodyguard.

“Of course she is,” I said, and I watched Ratri’s face as she stared at Yoweri as if she was seeing him for the first time, which was very likely, “they are very strong warriors.  And you don’t have to worry, the rest of my men are already waiting for us, I will be fine.”

“Kaiserin, please take care.  I hope we can see each other again soon, and that we have a chance to talk more,” Ratri said.

“I hope so too.  Now go, you still have a mission to finish.”

Yoweri went one way, they went the other.  I know that they would face my daughters soon, and that they would be able to recognize them, but I trusted they would help me keep the secret, or that at least they wouldn’t share the information with someone who I wouldn’t trust with it.  I knew that they, as many others, were still trying to understand the reason behind my escape, and that they wanted me back, and after being back in the Empire, fighting, I wanted to go back too, but it wasn’t possible, at least not yet, I still had a lot to do in the Dominion.

We arrived to where the group had set camp and were waiting with the vehicles, and found that Kimball was already back, talking to Ivan, so I went to them.

“It seems that the Slavers main camp is near, and I saw a group of Imperialists moving that way,” Kimball said.  “Is Greca alright?” I just nodded.  “Ok, then I think our job is done, everything went according to plan.  Malkia is also fine, by the way, we took care of the Slavers that were going for her, and neutralized the traitors with her, she is safe.”

“I know, I talked to her,” I said, “it seems that as soon as she found out I was here, she went looking for me in astral form.  I think they are not very happy with our help, but I prefer them to think we don’t trust them to defend themselves than falling in the hands of the Slavers, even for a couple of days.”

“You did a good job,” Kimball said, “they will be fine.”

“I kind of offered Malkia the chance to come with me, because I could feel she wanted to get to know me better, but she preferred to stay behind, I think that’s mostly because of Antrax.”

“At least he feels the same way about her,” Kimball said, “the last time I was here I could tell that what he felt for her was more than lust, and I just saw the kid desperate to find Malkia, and make sure she was ok.”

“A big group of soldiers is coming this way,” Fatima announced, “I think they are looking for more Slavers, but if we don’t move, they will find us.”

“I think it’s time to leave, but we can’t leave the Empire yet, I have a last stop to make before we can go back to the Dominion.”

No one, not even Kimball questioned my orders, and a few hours later we were in the limits of the Palace’s territory.  I had promised Trajan that I would go back to talk to him, and I planned to keep my promise.  Finding him again was easy, because he was also looking for me.

Sister, how are you?‘ he asked, as our minds found each other.

Better, now that I know the Slavers are being taken care of.

Thanks for letting us know we had a little problem, I didn’t think they would come back to cause trouble.  Your warning was a big help, again.  When are you coming back?  You could help us a lot here.

I can’t come back, not yet anyway.  I found my place in another land.

You’re happy.

I have my freedom and I have my family.  I’m as good as I could be.  I won’t tell you that everything is perfect or that I don’t have problems once in a while, but there nothing that I can’t handle, and besides those small problems, everything is fine.  I’m in a place where I can do what I want, and I’m safe and protected.  Everything is fine brother.  How are you?  I know the job of Emperor is not an easy one.

It’s not, but I think I’m doing a good job.  I miss you, and I get it if your place is not here with us, but I would like to see you again.

I’m afraid this is the best I can offer you.  You know I cannot go to the Palace, it’s too big of a risk.

Once we changed the subject to something different than the fact that I had left and had no intention of going back, the chat got much easier and felt better.  Like I had done on other occasions, I talked about my life and what I had been doing, being careful not to give him too many clues as to where I was or what I was up to.

As usual, talking to people from my past was a difficult experience, but at the same time something that I enjoyed.  Despite the circumstances and what could have been, I loved my brother and I missed him.  I missed what could have been if it wasn’t for my clairvoyance and the way my clan treated that power.  Things would have been very different if I had been able to stay and be the Empress, but at the same time I knew everything happened for a reason.  If I hadn’t been forced to leave my clan, I wouldn’t have met Kimball, I wouldn’t have Greca or Ethan, maybe I would have lost Malkia too.  They were everything to me, and I would change them for anything.

I was exhausted by the time we arrived at the Dominion, but Ethan was there to greet me, and he surrounded me with a feeling of peace and calmness.  I needed that, so I didn’t bother in getting angry at him for using his powers on me, I just enjoyed the peacefulness of the feeling.

“How are my sisters?” he asked, and I could feel genuine concern.  Sometimes it was easy to forget that despite the fact that he had never met them, and that I could sometimes feel some rivalry when he talked about his sisters, they were siblings and shared a connection, something difficult to explain, but that existed nevertheless.

“Fine, both of them.  We managed to arrive before something happened to them,” I said.

“They were only hurt in their pride, if they are anything like your mother, they will be furious they had to be rescued.”

“I’m glad they didn’t get any permanent damage, their ego will heal just fine.  Dante and William were asking about you, it seems none of them were happy that you left without talking to them first,” Ethan said, and that explained why he thought he needed to use his powers, he didn’t want me to get angry.

“I don’t have to talk to them before leaving,” I complained.

“It’s not a bad idea to talk to them.  You don’t have to explain where you were, or what you were doing, just tell them you had some personal issues to take care of and that you’re back.”

“If you are so worried about them, maybe you could go and talk to them,” I told Kimball, and putting my arm around Ethan’s shoulders, I let him take me back to the Palace and my suite.  The trip had drained me, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally too.  Going back was always difficult, but Ethan was a good reminder of why I had done what I had done, and why I had taken the path I had chosen.  He was a good reminder that there were things worth fighting for.

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 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.”

“Understood.”

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.

Chapter 11

“Is everything ready?” I asked Fatima, who had been with me all morning.

“Everything it’s ok,” she said, but I could tell she was a little distracted.

“What’s wrong?”

“Something weird was going on in the fog, I couldn’t get a good reading as to what was going to happen today, and I couldn’t contact Sofia to see if she could see something different.”

“I haven’t had a chance to get into the fog, but I talked to Sofia yesterday and she told me that everything would be fine today.”

“I haven’t seen William yet, did you?”

“No, I’m afraid he is late, he decided to go to the old house outside the city where he used to live, he asked to spend the night there.  He should arrive soon, but that’s ok, in a way it will be better if he arrives and surprises everyone.”

“It’s time to go,” David announced, opening the door just far enough for us to hear him.

I just waved Fatima goodbye and stepped outside to head to the Congress room, where all the Representatives, Ambassadors and other government people was already waiting.  As we expected, the universal translators had arrived on time and everyone had one, Kimball had tested them and said they were working perfectly, with their help nothing would be lost in translation.

I could feel the weight of everyone’s stares as I walked inside the room, Kimball was already there, wearing his gala uniform, as general of Mzansi’s army, a look that only helped to keep the idea that he would be the next King of the Dominion.

“Thank you for being here,” I said in a tone just loud enough to be heard.  “I believe that most of you know why I called you here, but for those that don’t know, I want you to know that my mission from the start was to reestablish the old system.  Right now I have the titles of Queen, Prime Minister and President of the Dominion, but today I will relinquish one of those titles and I will return the title of King to its rightful owner.”

“Kimball is not the rightful heir,” someone yelled from the other side of the room.  I couldn’t see who said that, I could easily find out who had, but I wasn’t worried about it.

“Before, the King or Queen was also known as the High Judge, that person was also in charge of applying the law and giving justice.  Emily was not the right person for that position, and all she did with it was abuse the power it gave her and corrupt it.  The new King won’t be like that.”

“Kimball has been covering your crimes for years,” Kozak said, “that makes him an accomplice and the worst person to fill that position.”

“As you know, or should know, when Queen Sofia left her position, she left it to her son Charles, going over Emily.  As Charles died and no one ever found out what had happened to his son, the crown went to Emily, and after Emily’s death, who didn’t have any heirs, the next in line is her brother William.”

“It will take a long time to go over all the succession line until we reach Kimball,” Representative Arctander protested.

“It’s not necessary to go that far,” I said, acknowledging for the first time one of their comments.  I gave David the signal and he opened the door.  William walked in and the room fell into complete silence, only to erupt in noise a second later as people started screaming protests and accusations.  I hit the podium with my palm, using my powers to amplify the noise and with that the room went back to silence.  “Let me introduce to you your next King, the son of former Queen Sofia, and younger brother of Charles and Emily.  The rightful heir of the crown, King William III.”

“William is dead,” someone yelled, breaking the silence.

“Good afternoon everyone.  I know that you are probably surprised by my presence, and I know that most of you heard from my sister that I died in the same accident my brother did.  The truth, that most of you know or at least suspect, is that my sister killed my brother, but left me alive, not because she felt bad about killing a relative or because she liked me, but because she used me, for years, as a tool to control my mother and force her to help her with her nefarious plans.  Once my sister decided my mother was no longer useful, I lost my usefulness too.  I should have died years ago, but Kaiserin saved me, and now she is giving me back my rightful place as King of the Dominion.”

Again the noise went up as people talked and questions were asked all at the same time.  The translators were doing its best to work, but there were too many voices and most of what was being said was getting lost.  A question managed to rise above others.

“Are you willing to work with the woman who killed your mother?”

“I know that Kaiserin is accused of a lot of crimes, and I know that as the Judge it’s my job to go over the evidences and judge if a person is innocent or guilty based on the laws that as King I swear to follow.  Because of that, my first action as King of the Dominion will be to judge Kaiserin and decide if she is fit to keep her position.”

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked William, that was not what we had agreed on.  “This is not part of the plan,” my men looked confused and didn’t know how to act, but a few people weren’t surprised by the turn of events.

“I have a file with all the crimes you have been accused of.  According to the old laws of the Dominion, no person is fit to rule over us unless she is innocent of any crime.”

“I offer my services as a lawyer to defend Kaiserin,” Jean Dupont, Madelaine’s brother-in-law offered.

“Agreed,” William said, and another wave of furious yelling started.

“Are you going to defend the woman who destroyed your brother by killing his wife?” one of the Ambassadors asked.

“Why do you assume she was involved in the death of my sister-in-law?” Jean asked, his voice full of suspicion.

“Maybe because he was involved in my kidnapping,” Madelaine answered, her physical aspect changing in front of everyone, her skin and hair getting lighter, morphing in front of everyone to the aspect we all recognized.  “I’m sure he is still mad that Kaiserin ruined his plans with me when she saved me from Faakhir.”  Madelaine’s presence caused a bigger reaction than William’s.  “Some men can’t take no for an answer, and he helped Faakhir, hoping that once he was done with me he would get his turn.”

“Madelaine, what are you doing?” I asked, still feeling out of control and a little lost.

“I won’t let them blame you for something you didn’t do, you saved me, and I won’t let you try to punish you for my kidnapping, or my supposed death.”

“I will wait until the preliminary trial to present the motion to dismiss the charge for Madelaine’s murder,  and I will present another 54 motions to dismiss other murders.  Some of the murder charges, I will ask to be changed to self-defense,” Jean said.

“Enough!  This has gone too far.  Who do you think you are to do something like this?  I won the right to rule this place, and this game of you is unacceptable.”  I told William, trying to understand what was going on.

“You gave me the right to judge you when you named me the King.  This is the best for everyone.”

“This is not part of the plan, you can’t do this,” by then, most of my men were placed around me, and Kinball had moved to my side.

“It wasn’t part of the plan to kill my sister either, you were supposed to give me the chance to face her.”

“I won’t accept this.  Did you forget who is in control?  Did you forget who saved you from death?  Is this how you pay me?”

“You asked me to come here and do my job.  This is me doing my job, it’s my duty to make sure that no criminal is in charge.  You are not the only one who is going to be facing trial, I will clean this place.  It’s like with the man Madeleine just accused of wrongdoing, he will be charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping and any other charges that my people can find.  But I’m going to start with you.”

“This is for the best,” Sofia said.  I realized that she was being escorted into the room by a very confused Yoweri.  In that moment I understood that Sofia and William had conspired to fool my people, and that only helped to fuel my anger.  “This is the best way to proceed,” she said, her voice so soft only I, and people close to us, would be able to hear her.

Sofia walked to the podium I had used a few minutes ago, and that her son was using, and put her hand on his shoulder, so he would give her space.  Sofia’s sudden appearance had rendered the room silent once again.  Most people in the room had attended her funeral, cried for her, heard the stories of how I had murdered her in her garden, with her daughter’s blessing.  Her death was one of the main reasons people hated me, because even if Sofia had been by her daughter’s side, they didn’t forget how good she had been to them as a Queen, and they all considered her another victim or her daughter, not an accomplice.

“Mother?” William asked, not just confirming her identity, but prompting her to speak.

“Things are not always what they look like,” Sofia said, breaking the silence.  “When my daughter started seeing me as a threat to her rule, she decided to get rid of me, but she sent the wrong assassin to do the job.  She asked Kaiserin to kill me, but instead, Kaisern offered me protection and a second chance.  She also gave me my son back.  I know you all expect this trial to show how unfit she is for the position she took from my daughter, but it will only show how right she is to rule the Dominion.  I’m grateful for the offer from Dupont to represent Kaiserin, and I offer my testimony to prove her innocence in most charges.  And I want to add, that I’m as guilty as her for those charges she is guilty of, because we worked together for years.”

“That’s not possible, she has to be controlling them,” a voice yelled from the back of the room, “they are trying to trick us.”

“No, we are here to try and fix what my sister broke,” William said.  “Kaiserin,” he said, turning to face me, his voice full of power.  “Could you tell me…” he started to say, but I used my powers to grab his neck and cut his words.

“How dare you use your power against me?  Did you forget who taught you to take advantage of your powers?”

“Kaiserin, calm down, we are together in this,” Sofia said, moving closer to me, but I was beyond mad at that point, mad at her betrayal.

“We were,” I said, and as soon as she was near me, I slapped her and sent her to the floor.  “We had a deal, and you broke it when you decided to go behind my back.  Remember that this alliance between us, it’s only valid as long as you are useful to me, when your usefulness runs out, so will our alliance.  I promised you would get to be King, so I will keep my word and let you play your games.  You have a week, in a week I will take control once more.  If this doesn’t work out in my favor, then I will just grab control by force once more, and I will make sure that no one will dare to get involved in my business again.”

“I’m sorry, but that’s not how things work.  I’m afraid that I will have to put you under arrest.  But I promise I will take care of this as soon as possible,” William explained.

“An who is going to arrest me?” I asked.  “The soldiers still loyal to the crown are not match to the ones loyal to me.  Are you going to start a war just a few minutes after assuming your new role as King?”

“Don’t make this more difficult.  You know you need me by your side.”

“That’s not true, I could do what I should have done years ago and kill you and your mother, and take the crown back, keep being a tyrant.”  I moved closer to William and whispered to him.  “Or I could go looking for your nephew, your brother’s son, the true heir to toe crown, I’m sure I can make sure he remains loyal.”

“What? But… What are you talking about?” William asked, confused, waiting for an answer I had no intention to give him.  “Come back here!” he ordered as he noticed I was moving out of the room.

I could feel him moving after me, but my men surrounded me, creating a barrier he couldn’t break, and making me feel better, knowing I still had people on my side.  I couldn’t get over the fact that I had been betrayed once again by people I trusted completely.  I stepped out of the room and found Reka and Konstantinos waiting for me, both of them looked worried and that only made me realize that there were more problems to deal with.  I could hear Kimball discussing back in the room, but I couldn’t focus on what he was saying, I needed to find what had them so worried.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure how it happened,” Konstantinos said, “but we were just informed that the people from Aquarium it’s arriving at the Towers, most going to their old homes or to their relatives.”

“This can’t be happening,” I said out loud, even as I realized that William’s and Sofia’s betrayal was even worse than I originally thought.  “The army is still under my power, that means that we can still act, we need to declare Martial Law immediately if we want to keep control of the situation.  I want the army on the streets, no one gets in or out of the city and I want increased security around the Towers, it’s possible that with the arrival of the refugees some our enemies decide to act, we can’t allow that.”

“Understood,” Reka said, “we will start working on that right away.”

Ivan,‘ I called with my mind, ‘I need you to go pick Ethan from school.  Things can become dangerous and I need to know he is safe.‘  I read an affirmative answer on his mind and I moved to the next step.

“Kaiserin?” Sofia called.

“No!” I yelled as I turned to face her.  “You don’t want to be near me right now, it’s hard enough to control myself right now, all I want right now is to break your neck.  For your own safety, stay away from me.”

“It’s for the best, Sofia, your action today did a lot of damage,” Fatima said.  “We trusted you and you fooled us, you hid your plans from us.  We are supposed to be a team, and you manipulated the situation to stop us from seeing what you were planning.”

“My son thinks this is the best way, the trial will show that all the action taken these years have been for the good of the Dominion, people will see you for who you really are,” Sofia said.

“That was never the plan and you know it.  We looked at all the options and decided that that was not the best way.”

“You said it yourself, plans change.”

I wasn’t in the mood to hear her excuses, so I signaled my people to follow and walked away, heading to my suite.  I knew that I was partly to blame, experience had already taught me that I should trust no one, that no matter how close people were to you, no matter who they were, people could betray you any time.  Even people you could swear would give their lives for you, could change their minds any moment and stab you in the back.

Chapter 10

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

“I will be there in a minute.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Emily forbade those translators…”

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

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

“You have until Friday,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You knew we had sent her after you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you ok?” Kimball asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, it’s ok, I have it.”

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