Chapter 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m only covering my bases.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you manipulated our parents?” Iñaki asked.

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

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

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

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

“Still mad at William?” Ethan asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You knew about that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

Chapter 8

We were walking through the fog, we had already taken a walk to the past, looking for the moment Faakhir had found out about my secrets, and trying to identify the people he had shared those secrets with.  After that we had moved forward, looking for new threats.  It was easy to walk the different paths because I had Fatima’s and Sofia’s help.  I was aware that I had made a mistake by dismissing the visions just because they didn’t make sense, thanks to Agmong’s presence, but it was an error I wouldn’t make again, I had to move forward after that.

We found out about a new attack, and we managed to get enough information about it to stop it, and a group of my men was already moving to stop it, and another group of my most trusted men were hunting the few of Faakhir’s loyalists that had escaped us during out first cleaning.  Everything was going according to plan, but it wasn’t enough, I had to make sure that the Dominion was safe and that nothing important was going to happen if I wanted to move forward with the rest of my plans.

I was walking one of the paths, going through the attack that we were trying to stop, making sure we had everything under control, but I suddenly found myself in another place, I walked into a sterile looking room.

I saw a bed, surrounded by machines, the setup was very similar to something I would likely find in a hospital, but it wasn’t exactly the same.  I moved closer, and noticed a person lying on the bed, it was a familiar face, even if it had been years since I had seen her.

“Malkia!” someone yelled, and I turned to see Greca running into the room, going straight to her sister, while Dendro and his son entered the room behind her.

“We are doing everything we can to help her, but for the moment all we can do is keep her stable,” Antrax, Dendro’s son explained.  Pain was showing in his face, despite his efforts to hide it. 

“How could this happen?” Greca asked. 

“We were working on a new project and something happened, she got poisoned, we are working with some serums, trying to counter the venom, but we haven’t found the right one,” he explained. 

“We have to start thinking in the possibility that she may not make it,” Dendro said, “according to Antrax, she had been like this for a while, and the damage on her body is already extensive.”

“No!  Don’t say that, my sister has to recover, you can’t let her die,” Greca was fighting to stay strong, but it was clear it was a battle she was losing. 

The scene changed and I found myself back in the fog.  I felt a familiar presence with me, but it wasn’t Fatima nor Sofia.

Melchizedek, what are you doing here?

I had a vision, and I knew I needed to help you,‘ Melchizedek explained.

Did you see the same thing I did?  It’s my Malkia…?‘ I couldn’t believe that was I had seen was real.  ‘That can’t be true, I have seen visions of my daughter as an adult, she can end like that.

You don’t have much time, if you want to save her, you need to move right now.

I will leave immediately,‘ I said.  I was still recovering from my injuries and I had been trying to rest, but my first priority, always, were my children.  I wouldn’t let Malkia down, no matter what it cost me.

It’s not you who needs to leave, you can’t help your daughter, but there is someone who can,‘  Melchizedek smiled.  ‘I’m sorry I don’t have more time, I just needed to let you know about this.  Good luck.

Melchizedek’s presence disappeared, and I realized I couldn’t feel Fatima nor Sofia near me.  I knew that I couldn’t waste time, so I left the fog.  I was alone when I got out of my trance, Fatima was in another room, and Sofia was back at Aquarium, so I had no idea if they were still in the fog or had gotten out, but that didn’t matter at the time, I needed to find Kimball.

I drank the glass of water someone had left beside the bed, and took one of the cookies there before going looking for Kimball.  I was trying to contact him with my comm while I ran through the halls.  He didn’t answer at first, but the call finally connected.

“Kaiserin?  What’s going on?” he asked.

“Where are you?”

“Right here,” he called from the other side of the hall, Ethan and Kimball were getting out of the gym, where they had been training until my call.

“Malkia is in danger,” I went straight to the point.  “I just had a vision, I don’t know the details, but she has been poisoned and the Assassins can’t help her.  Melchizedek said that I couldn’t help her either, but that you can save her.”

“Melchizedek?” Ethan asked.

“He was with me in the fog, he talked to me after I had the vision, he says we don’t have much time…”

“Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to her,” Kimball promised.

Ethan hugged me, and I realized I was shaking.  “Everything is going to be ok, don’t worry,” he said, trying to calm me down, with words, but also using his powers.

Kimball started to give orders through his comm, asking for his people to prepare one of the planes and making sure some of his trusted men were ready to go with him.

“Did you eat?” Kimball asked.

“A cookie,” I said.

“That’s not enough.  I will ask them to take a tray to your room, you can tell me all about your vision and anything else that we may need to know while we wait for it.  We need to make the most of the time we have.”

While we waited for our food, I told them everything I had seen, and everything Melchizedek had told me.  I knew that it wasn’t much, but I promised I would go into the fog again, and get more information.  My idea was to get into the fog as soon as the airplane took off, that way I would have something for them as soon as we landed.  The main thing was to get moving, Kimball was eager to leave while Ethan was uneasy about the whole situation.  He didn’t know his sisters, and I knew he had conflicting feelings about them, but he didn’t want them dead.

After eating, we starting packing our things.  I knew it wasn’t the right time for a trip, our enemies were planning an attack and I wasn’t completely recovered, and apparently Kimball was thinking the same.

“I think you should stay.  Melchizedek said that I was the one who needed to help Malkia, and you are in condition to be doing a trip like this.”

“And I think you need me to go with you, at least as support, it would be easier to get into Assassin’s territory with me by your side.”

“Not really, first of all, you are not completely recovered, and I don’t want you in a situation where you could be forced to fight and get hurt again, and second, I know you trust Dendro, but it only takes one of his men to call the Empire about you,” Kimball said, and I knew he was right, still I couldn’t stay and do nothing.

“Maybe I can stay out of the way, I only need to be close, and I could contact Dendro and let him know about you.”

“I would feel better knowing that you are safely behind,”  Kimball stopped working on his packing and moved in front of me.  “I don’t want to tell you what to do, if you really need to do this, all I can do is to ask you to stay out of the way, where you are safe.  You know what I’m capable of, and I will do all I can possibly do to save Malkia.  You can trust me, you can put her life in my hands and I will do my best not to let you down.  I love her as if she was mine, and you know that I would do anything for the people I love.”

“I trust you, I trusted you with Ethan’s life, and this is no different, but you have to understand, I left my daughters behind thinking I was doing what was best for them, but Greca was turned into a slave and almost died in that mine, and Dendro had to save Malkia, I wasn’t even there to help her.  And now is in trouble again and I can’t save her.  I failed them, my errors have hurt them, put them at risk.”

“You did what you thought was best, that’s all we can do.  I know that I had never been a fan of your decisions, because I would have loved to have them here with us, but I have to admit that that didn’t warranty that they would be fine.  Just look at Ethan, we have done our best, and still he had been forced into some bad situations.  There’s no way to know if things would have been better if they were with us, and there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

“Do you really think I should stay here?” I hated how weak my voice sounded, but one of my children was in danger, and knowing there was nothing I could do about it was pulling me apart.  Once again, I would have to stay behind and trust Kimball to save the day.

“I would feel better.  But maybe you could come with me to the Island, that way you would be closer, just in case.”

“I would like that,” he was making a compromise, and I would feel better going at least part of the way.

Time flew by, and soon everything was ready, I noticed that Mbali and Tau were part of the group that Kimball had selected, and that made me feel better about the whole thing, they would be able to help him with whatever he needed.

As soon as the plane was in the air, I went into trance.  I knew what I was looking for, and where to find it, I went directly for Malkia’s timeline and was glad to realize she wasn’t hurt yet, there was even a tiny chance she wouldn’t be poisoned, but looking at the different paths in front of her I realized that it was something that was going to happen sooner or later, because her problem was hormonal.  The attraction between Antrax and Malkia had grown stronger, and that made them throw caution to the air.  Antrax was poisonous, and he couldn’t be with her, but they both seemed to forget that fact.  I wanted to be angry at Antrax for putting her at risk, but it was clear that they both had their share of the blame.  It would have been easier to put the blame on him if it wasn’t for the way he cared about her, and the guilt that I saw in his face.

I saw the different scenarios playing, many paths had died after we had decided to help her, and I could see Kimball in all the futures.  I found the paths that looked longer, knowing that in those he had been able to save her, and started to look for clues of what could help bring those futures to reality.  I had to find just enough hints for him to make his own plan, I had to give him room to move, or it wouldn’t work.

By the time we arrived to the Island so they could take another plane, one easier to keep hidden from the Imperialists, I had enough information for Kimball to be able to save her.

“Everything is going to be ok, you have to trust me,” Kimball said before kissing me.  I could feel he was worried, but he also was confident he would be successful, and I did trust him.  Melchizedek was right, Kimball really was the right person for the job, and I knew he would do anything to save my daughter.

“I trust you, that’s not the issue.  Just be careful, your plan is very risky.  Now that you decided how to act, the paths had to have changed again, so I will go into the fog and look for more clues.  I will let you know about anything important.  I know that Ivy’s presence is going to complicate things,” my visions had shown me that we couldn’t let them know who Kimball really was, Ivy’s jealousy could put him and Malkia at risk, “but if I see that you are at risk at any moment, I will contact Dendro and find a way to help.”

“I expect nothing less from you,” he said, giving me another kiss, on the back of my hand.  “Everything is going to be ok,” he said again, but I wasn’t sure if the words were meant for me, or him.

I saw Kimball’s group getting into the plane, but I knew he was going to be by himself for most of the mission, he would get into enemy territory alone and would have to convince Dendro that he could help Malkia by himself.  I trusted that Dendro would do what was best, but I couldn’t help but worry.

The best thing I could do was to keep busy, so as soon as I had something to eat I went back into the fog.  I was wishing I could see Melchizedek, it was always better to have a guide, but even if he wasn’t there, I had a job to do, because no matter what, this was a mission we couldn’t fail.

Chapter 7

I was disoriented and my body was hurting when I woke up.  It took me a while to find my bearings, I couldn’t recognize the place I was at and my powers were blocked.  I was free, so I immediately activated the necklace so I could get my powers back, before starting to get the IV off of me, I wasn’t sure what they were giving me, but I knew that whatever it was it was affecting my mind.  I had no idea how I had ended in that place, but while I was trying to piece it together the door opened and a couple of nurses, followed by two guards, entered the room.  I immediately got into a defensive position, I couldn’t let them get to me, not while I was vulnerable.

“Kaiserin?  What are you doing?” a familiar voice asked.  I had been so focused on the nurses and guards that I didn’t notice Mbali as part of the group.

“Mbali?  What’s going on?”

“It’s alright Kaiserin, we are here to help you, you are hurt,” she explained.  I looked to the group and realized that the nurses had stopped moving, they looked uncertain, and a little afraid, then I realized the other two were part of my guard, and they were confused by my attitude.

“My powers…” I whined, my voice weak and a little afraid.

“You had a psychic headache, you were bleeding, so we had to put a suppressor on you to keep you from getting worse.  You do remember what happened, right?”

It took me a minute to remember, the memory of the impostor wearing Agmong’s face made me shiver, and then I remembered Kimball being hurt and I fell to the floor.  “Kimball, what happened to him?  Is he…?”

“My cousin is fine,” Mbali said, getting closer to me, while the others kept their distance, still unsure of how to act around me.  “Do you want to go see him?”

“Yes, please.”  I said immediately.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea to move her,” one of the nurses said, “she needs to rest, her injuries are not healed yet.  We need to put the IV back before the pain returns.”

“I don’t want drugs,” I said, “they make me feel bad.”

“You will feel worse without them, the pain…”

“I don’t care!” I yelled, angry.  “I can deal with a little pain, I can’t deal with a clouded mind.”  I felt as if I was moving in slow motion, my thought were cloudy.

“Don’t worry, everything will be fine,” Mbali told them, going to where I was and helping me up.

“At least let us bring a wheelchair.”

“No…” I started to say.

“It’s not necessary,” Mbali interrupted, “I will help her.”

Yoweri and Rasmus hadn’t moved since they first entered the room, but I could feel their anger, the aura they were emitting was oppressive and I knew how much damage they were capable of.  I couldn’t help but move away from them, I knew they wouldn’t hurt me, they were supposed to keep me safe.

With Mbali’s help I got out of the room, and was met with a group of people, Ivan moved towards me as soon as he saw me, and I couldn’t help but take a step back to keep away from him.  I saw his surprise and confusion at my reaction, and I didn’t miss the look he gave Mbali, as if he was asking for an explanation.  Soriya also moved forward, but slower, her attitude less menacing.

“How are you feeling?” Soriya respectfully asked.

“My mind is cloudy, I can’t think straight,” I confessed.

“It’s normal with the medicine they were giving you.  We did all we could to help, but some injuries take time, no matter what we do, and your body must be depleted, tired and most likely hurting.  You shouldn’t be out of your bed, and you shouldn’t stop the medicine.”

“I don’t want the medicine!  I want a clear mind!” I said strongly, and then I flinched, convinced that something bad was going to happen after I spoke my mind, but at the same time telling myself that it was my right to do just that, wasn’t I supposed to be in charge?  “Mbali, I want to see Kimball,” I asked, thinking that once I was by his side everything would be fine.

The guards standing along the hallway moved to the side, giving us a wide berth so we could walk by.  The aura around them was oppressive, and it was hard for me to hide my fear.  Kimball’s room was very close, and we finally moved inside, Mbali closing the door behind us, and leaving the others outside.  I felt my chest constrict when I saw Kimball lying still on a bed, surrounded by cables and dressings covering most of his body.  I left Mbali’s support so I could go to Kimball.  He didn’t look like the Kimball I knew, he didn’t look strong and powerful as usual, he looked vulnerable.

“One of the bullets broke his collarbone, another got into his bloodstream and caused an obstruction.  The bullets that were stopped by his uniform managed to cause many bruises and broke a few ribs, one of them punctured his lung.  He had surgery and all of that was fixed, doctors are confident he will have a full recovery, but for the moment he is under anesthesia,” Mbali explained.  “I’ll leave you alone.”

I pulled a chair closer to the bed and sat next to Kimball, I put my forehead next to his hand.  The necklace chose that moment to disable the suppressor, and despite the lingering headache I decided not to activate the suppressor again, I was confident enough that I would be able to keep my powers under control, besides, having access to them made me feel better.

I fell asleep, and the next time I woke up I realized that I was lying on the bed next to Kimball, and he was caressing my hair, while he spoke with someone else.  I lifted my head and found that Ethan was standing next to the bed, on the other side of Kimball.

“How are you feeling?” my son asked when he realized I was awake.

“Better than the first time I woke up,” I sincerely said, my mind was clear and even if my whole body was aching, it wasn’t something I hadn’t felt before.  “And how are you?” I asked Kimball, moving away from him, scared of hurting him.

“Much better, I will be as good as new in a couple of days,” he said, with a smile that made me believe in his words.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “it was all my fault.  If I hadn’t ignored the warnings, the visions…  I never thought something like that was possible.  I was careless, and that put you both in danger,” I felt sick just thinking about Ethan and Kimball near death’s door.

“We are not the only ones that had been in danger,” Kimball said, taking my hand and stroking the skin just under the marks on my wrists from the chains.

“I promise I won’t let something like this happen again, I won’t be taken by surprise again,” I wasn’t sure how I would keep that promise, but I would, I wasn’t going to go through the same pain again.  But first I needed to find who else Faakhir had shared my past with, I knew I wouldn’t be alright until all of them were gone, I wouldn’t be able to keep my sanity if someone else used the same tricks as Faakhir and Temur had used against me.  “How long has it been?” I asked.  “Do people know what happened at the vineyard?  We can’t let our enemies attack while we are vulnerable,” I panicked for a moment just thinking about it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to defend myself or my family.

“Don’t worry about that,” Ethan said.  “The official version is that you were attacked and you killed all your adversaries, also that my father was hurt, but only because his injuries couldn’t be hidden.  The rest of the people that were captured with you reported that they woke up surrounded by dead bodies.  The tree of pain caused quite an impression.”

“So they don’t know that they defeated me, they don’t know that those men…” for a moment I had trouble separating the memories of the real Agmong with those from the impostor.

“You killed them Kaiserin, I wouldn’t count that as a defeat.  You like to remind me that you have gone through worse, so you can’t let this affect you.”

“It’s just that I don’t know what I would do if they decide to attack now.  I can’t stand to go through that again, and I can’s stand to see you hurt again.”

“I know what you mean, watching them hurting you was more painful than the shots they fired at me.”

“No one is going to let something like that to happen to you again,” Ethan said.  “You have an army just outside the door that would give their life for you.  I had to close my empathy just to get to here, the people outside are so angry that it was difficult to even breathe.  They feel bad that they weren’t there for you, that they didn’t have a chance to avenge you, I’m sure that if they could, they would bring those men back from death and kill them all over again.”

My mind no longer clouded, I was able to remember and analyze what had happened when I had gotten out of my room, the atmosphere had been heavy and they had been furious, but what I hadn’t realized was that that fury wasn’t directed at me, they had been angry that I had been hurt.  It was still hard for me to understand that they could be worried about me.  I had accepted that Kimball cared about me, just like I cared about him, but experience had taught me that most people would take advantage of my weakness, not feel protective about it.  I knew that Ethan was right, those people outside had come together for a common goal, but along the way I had earned their trust, respect and even their affection, I wasn’t blind, I knew some of them even loved me, and not the dangerous kind that wanted to hurt and possess, but the platonic, pure kind of love.

“It’s time to get back to work, I need to be prepared to avoid our enemies to surprise us again.  I’ll find the way to get ahead of them.”

“First, you need to recover.  I’m sure that Soriya and her team of healers are desperate to keep working on your injuries,” Kimball said.  “I asked for them to bring another bed so you can stay with me.  Why don’t you go look for Soriya?”  Kimball asked Ethan.  “I’m sure that even if your mother won’t admit it, she could use the help.”

“Of course, I’ll be right back,” Ethan said, running out of the room before I could say anything.

“Ethan shouldn’t have to see this, it can’t be easy for him to see both his parents hurt.  And I have to say, you look terrible, even with all the help you had to accelerate your recovery.”

“Now that my mind is clear and my powers under control, I don’t feel so bad,” I could still feel every mark on my bod, and I didn’t want to even imagine how my back looked, most of the damage was there, but I knew that wasn’t important, I had learned how to deal with pain a long time ago.  I hated the idea of looking at that kind of scars on the mirror, again, but I trusted that the doctors and healers would be able to help me to minimize them, even make them completely disappear.  “Right now I’m more worried about the people outside, I don’t know how I will be able to face them again.  Ethan is right about them caring about me, but they just saw me at my worst, how can I expect them to respect me after that?”

“You are the only one that thinks like that.  You see someone that have been bested by her enemies, you see yourself defeated, but they see a woman that got through something that would have broken most people and managed to kill her enemies.  You are letting your fear blind you from what’s in front of you.”

“I’m afraid that what happened will change their opinion of me, I’m afraid they won’t respect me anymore, that they won’t follow me or they will think they can control me.”

“How’s your headache?” Kimball asked, changing the topic so suddenly that I was confused at first.

“It’s not completely gone, it still hurts a little, but is manageable enough so I can use my powers.  For the moment is better if I don’t use them unless it’s an emergency, so I won’t make it worse again.”

“It’s not an emergency, but you should use a little of empathy or maybe a bit of telepathy to see what’s on the other side of the door.  Maybe once you can see for yourself that they don’t see you any different, at least now different as you expect, you will be more at ease.”

I knew that most of the problem were my own insecurities, awakened by the trauma I had just gone through.  I was trapped by my own fears, and I was afraid to listen to Kimball and find something I didn’t want.  Just as I was thinking about it the door opened and I saw most of my men outside the door, guarding my room, making sure I was safe.  I extended my senses, like Kimball had suggested, and couldn’t believe what I found, I expected pity, but found admiration, I expected disgust, but found respect.  I made a signal to Ivan so he would come closer, and I could feel how they all relaxed, as if that simple act proved that I was ok.

Ivan came into the room just behind Ethan, Soriya, and a couple of healers, behind Ivan were another couple of people pushing another hospital bed that they started setting just beside Kimball’s.  Soriya and her healers went to my side, but Ivan kept his distance, I could see weariness on his face, and my powers let me know that he was worried and doing his best not to make me uncomfortable.

“How are you feeling?”  Soriya asked me.

“I’m sore, but much better overall,” I said sincerely, but from her frown and the look she exchanged with the other healers, I guessed she didn’t believe me.

“We would like to take a look if that’s ok with you, we want to speed up the healing and try to get rid of the scars.  We would like to start with your back.”

“That’s ok,” I said.

I got out of bed and went to a stool that was there, knowing that it would give them better access to my injuries.  The gown I was using was tied at the back, so it would be easy for them to have access to my back.  Soriya was the one who untied it, and then she put her hands on my shoulder, I could feel how affected she was by the trembling in her hands.  Another hand touched the base of my neck and the other healer put his hands on my other shoulder.  As soon as they started working, I felt heat and tickling on my back, and I knew the healing process was going well.  I could see that Ivan was trying to avoid looking at me, and I saw his hands curled into fists.

“You can see it, don’t you?”  Ethan asked, he was sitting on the floor next to me, resting gently against my legs, but being careful not to hurt me.  ‘Watching you hurt is hurting him,‘ he said to my mind.  ‘We all worry about you, we all want you to be ok.’  I knew what he was talking about, I could feel how affected Soriya was, how angry Ivan was, and not at me, but at himself for not being able to spare me the hurt.

“Ivan,” I called him, and he looked at me for the first time, letting me see the guilt in his eyes, “I missed a lot, I need you to tell me what happened.  How is everyone?”  I had forgotten about Temur’s threats with all that had happened, but I suddenly remembered how he had said he would kill everyone who had helped me seize control of the Dominion.

“We lost many people in the initial attack, no one from our group,” he quickly assured me, “mostly soldiers that we had taken along for protection.  Franz was the one who was injured worst, but Soriya was there and was able to help him, there won’t be any permanent damage for him.”  I put my hand over Soriya’s in a silent thank you for her help, hoping she would understand the gesture.  “Our men, Franz, Lukas, Tatyana, Nasim, Soriya, Kebe and Yoweri were able to fight back and stop the rest of the mercenaries at the vineyard.  By the time they broke into the cellar you had already taken care of the enemies inside, and Temur was in one of your constructions, he didn’t survive long after their arrival.”

“He should have lasted longer, he didn’t suffer enough,” Kimball said, and I could tell that Ivan agreed with him.

“So there were no survivors from my attack.  What about the rest of the people there?”

“Well, the rest of us arrived as fast as we could.  Thalia and her group of telepaths worked on the other captives in the cellar, making sure none of them were involved with the attack, and as per Kimball’s instructions, making sure none of them remembered what had happened inside the room.  As far as we could find, none of them knew about the attack, and we managed to capture the rest of Temur’s people.  Thalia and Fatima were in charge of questioning the rest of the mercenaries, and they kept them alive and isolated, in case you wanted to conduct your own interrogation.”

“That’s perfect, you seem to have everything under control,” I made a signal to the healers and stood up.  “I will need at least another day of rest, but I want you to have everything ready for me to go meet with the mercenaries tomorrow, I want to see if I can find more information on Temur and his partners.”  I went and opened the door, letting Ivan know it was time for him to leave.  “I will need Fatima, we have a lot of work to do, we need to start working on getting ahead of our enemies, we can’t allow what happened at the vineyard, or the school, to happen again.”

“We won’t let them hurt you again,” Rasmus assured me from outside the door, he roared his promise.  The rest of the people outside let me know they agreed with the sentiment.  Almost all of the guards that had helped me take over the Dominion were outside the door.

“I’m ok, I swear, I’ll be just fine.  I’m grateful for your support and I assure you I will be as good as new in no time, and this will only be a bad memory.”

“I don’t think I will be able to forget what happened,” Yoweri said, falling to his knees in front of me.  “I failed you, I’m supposed to keep you safe and I couldn’t do it.  You have no idea how bad I feel about it.”

“I don’t blame you for what happened, so you don’t have to, either.  You did a great job staying alive and fighting back, getting help and stopping our enemies, you even got me out of that place.  What happened is already in the past, we only have to worry about the future and about making sure our enemies don’t take us by surprise again.”

I extended my senses, and was able to confirm yet again that Kimball’s and Ethan’s words were true, I could feel that the people there cared about me.  They were willing to risk their own lives for me, and yet, part of my mind couldn’t let me forget that I had met people like that before, and that hadn’t stopped them from betraying me.  I liked to know that I could trust those people, that they were willing to keep me safe, but I couldn’t forget that I had to stay alert, because people could change in a second.

I left my guards outside and went back to the room, to where my family was waiting for me, and the healers were ready to keep working.  For the time being my first priority was to recover, I could worry about everything else later.

Chapter 6

I felt like I was losing my mind, they kept calling me Sklave, and that was messing with my perception, I felt like a was losing the battle with myself and I was becoming Sklave again.  As I watched Kimball fighting them, trying to free himself so he could help me, new tears started rolling down my face, I knew he was fighting that hard because of me, he wanted to help me, and he didn’t want them using him to control me, but every time he moved, a new shot hit his body.  I opened my mouth to ask them to stop, but I couldn’t get the words out, part of me was stopping me.  As Kaiserin, I never cried, I never begged, but as Sklave I never had any problem with any of that, I had spent all my time as Sklave begging for mercy that never came, I had no problem humiliating myself, and at that moment I wanted to be like that and do whatever it took to save Kimball, I wanted to help him, even if I had to be Sklave to do that.

“Don’t do it,” Kimball said, maybe noticing that I was about to give them what they wanted.  “Don’t let them win.”

They were hitting him again for talking, but I was brought back by his words, he was right.  I knew that at the moment they got what they wanted, Kimball wouln’t be useful to them anymore, they would have the control.  Another shot hit Kimball’s chest, and my thought scattered again.  I knew that his uniform was bullet proof, but the shots were too close, and they had to be doing a lot of damage, I guessed he had at least a few broken ribs because of the hits.

“I’m not a patient man, Sklave.  Are you going to beg me?  Or do you want me to kill him?”

“Don’t…” I didn’t know what to do or how to act, I was breaking and I wasn’t sure what would become of me.  I didn’t want to go back to being the pathetic, weak, woman that Agmong had created all those years before, but I felt more like her every minute.

“I love your tears,” the impostor said, he was licking them, while he grabbed me by the hair, it was such a familiar feel, and I wasn’t surprised when a new electric charge hit me, it was a familiar feeling, one that sent me back in time, that send me deep into my memories.

I felt weak, I was under my enemies’ power, and my life, my Kimball was on his knees, suffering because of me, about to die.  My mind was breaking and I couldn’t stop it.  Nightmares and reality were blending together and I knew I would break and never be the same, I was about to lose the battle.

I opened my mouth again, I was about to tell them I was giving up, that I would do whatever they wanted, but then I felt the broken pieces fixing themselves, the emptiness inside me was filling fast, my powers were back.  Kimball had saved me again, his gift had freed my powers, giving me a fighting chance, giving me hope and the chance of recovering.

The first thing I did, I connected to the weapons they were using, I knew the firearms they were using, and it was easy to disable them.  I knew that wasn’t the solution, but it would help Kimball and give him a chance, I trusted that without the weapons he would have a chance to fight back, just like I did.  With the weapons out of the way, I focused on the man next to me, his hand was still grabbing me hair, exposing my neck so he could bite me, while he was digging on the wounds on my back with his other hand, causing new waves of pain shake my body.

“Do you know what happened to the real Agmong?” I asked him.  “He bleed to death, I nailed him to the wall and watched as the light died on his eyes, I watched as he fought for his life, until the realized there was no way out, I watched as he realized he was going to die at my hands, and that for the first and last time in his life, he was at my mercy.  You will die the same way.”

The damage done to my body affected my powers, but that didn’t stop me from pulling a few stakes from the nearest wall and pushing the impostor to them.  One stake pierced his lung, but I was careful not to touch his heart, I wanted his death to be slow and painful.  Another one went through his stomach, that was a mortal wound, unless he got help in the next few minutes, the rest of the stakes got him through legs and arms, pinning him to the wall and stopping him from escaping.  Almost as soon as I finished, the terrakinetic started working on reverting my work, freeing the impostor, but the damage was done, his face was already morphing back to his original features, like every metamorph, he was going to die with his original face.  I watched the face they had brought back from my nightmares melt and disappear.

“Don’t stand there like fools, stop her!” Temur ordered, thinking they still had a chance of stopping me, but it was too late, the pain and rage inside me were fueling my need of vengeance.

I used my powers to connect to the chains holding me, and extended my power to reach the chains they had used to subdue Kimball, who was already fighting the soldiers that had attacked him.  I could see his movements were slow and a little off, I wasn’t sure if he was still suffering the effects of whatever drug they had used on him, or if he was injured worse than I thought.  I took the chains and wrapped them around the soldiers’ necks, and then I used them to hang them from beams in the ceiling, but some of them were psychics, and they were trying to use their powers to free themselves.  I knew that pain would make it harder for them to concentrate hard enough to use their powers, so I broke their legs, and then their arms to distract them, and when the attacks stopped, I knew I had been right.  Some of them were too busy trying to escape, but using their broken bones made it more difficult.  The screams and grunts from the soldiers hanging from the ceiling were mixed with the terrified screams of the rest of the hostages, that I’m sure thought they were next.

There was just one person still standing, and that was Temur.  There was no one else stopping me from going after him, my true target.  He had tried to take Kimball as a shield, but even tired and slow, Kimball was capable of fighting back, and was not an easy target.

“Finish him,” Kimball asked, but not because he wanted him dead, but because he knew I needed to kill him so I could feel like myself again, and not like a victim.

“I told you, you were a dead man from the moment you decided to come after me,” I told him.  Temur tried to attack me, and I knew that I had to stop him before he had a chance of to reach me, I was still vulnerable, hanging from the ceiling, my body was useless, and my powers were the only thing allowing me to fight back, powers that were fueled by my hate, rage, and even my fear.

Temur went to where the impostor was, he didn’t look like Agmong anymore, he was wearing his true face, and clearly fighting to stay alive, maybe thinking someone would come to help him.  He stretched his hand to Temur, asking for help, but Temur didn’t waste any time thinking about his dying ally, he grabbed the gloves out of his hands, the gloves I already suspected were producing the electricity he had used to mimic Agmong’s powers, a power I wasn’t going to allow him to use on me again.  Before Temur had a chance to reach me, I used my powers to build a stake that hit him in the chest, with so much force that he was lifted in the air, before he could move or escape, another one hit him from the back, holding him in place, I used my powers to break the stakes and build branches, that went through his body.  He tried to scream, and one of the branches got out of his throat, killing the scream.  It wasn’t my best job, it was a very basic and raw tree of pain, it wasn’t like the one I had used on Faakhir when I was strong enough to take care not to touch his vitals, this one was doing much more damage, and I knew his death was going to be faster, but I couldn’t focus enough to take care where the branches were getting out, I was just making the tree grow.

“Kaiserin?”  Kimball was crawling to where I was, but he fell before reaching me.

I needed to get to him, but first I needed to get down.  I used my mind to open the cuffs around my wrists.  I hadn’t been that high, just high enough for my feet not to be able to touch the ground, but the fall shook my body and sent waves of pain through my body.  My legs weren’t strong enough to hold me and I fell hard to my knees.  My legs and even my arms were covered in welts, some of them bleeding, thanks to the whipping, and I could see a large bruise on my side from the kicks and even if I couldn’t see my face, I knew it was bad, I could hardly open one of my eyes, it was so swollen, and I didn’t even want to think about my back, it felt so raw and hurt so much.  I tried to move my arms, and couldn’t, every time I tried the pain was so bad that I felt like I would pass out.

I used my powers to move Kimball closer to me, taking care not to hurt him, and as soon as he was close enough, he put his arms around me, taking care not to hurt me.

“Kaiserin, I’m so sorry… I failed you, I couldn’t help you…”  I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell he was crying.

“I was able to escape thanks to you, your gift saved me again.”  Using the contact with Kimball I connected to him to try and see the extent of the damage he had sustained, and I realized he was worse than I thought, at least three bullets had managed to get inside him, and I didn’t even need my powers to tell that his lungs were damaged, his breathing was both shallow and hard.

I was already suffering the effects of a psychic headache, and the pain was increasing faster than normal, and I realized I was under attack, again, one of the soldiers had to be a telepath, a strong one if he could get over the pain and attack me.  I tried to move and look for the person responsible for the attack, and I found the faces of the other hostages staring at me with fear, and worse, with pity.  I hadn’t realized the implications of them being there, but I didn’t want them witnessing my humiliation.  But first, I needed to find my attacker, which was easy.  I let his chains go, and he fell to the ground, I dragged him closer to me, and he tried to attack me, but Kimball found the strength to fight him.  While Kimball was holding him still and punching him, I used my powers to move my hand until it rested on him, and I used my powers to steal his energy.  I was so weak and hungry that I was able to drain him in a couple of minutes.  Once I finished him, I felt stronger, so I repeated my actions and pulled the rest of the soldiers to me, so I could drain them too.  It was actually a mercy, a quick death that they didn’t deserve, but I needed their energy more than revenge.

There were seven soldiers, without counting the impostor and Temur, and I was able to drain them all.  Kimball was by my side, struggling to stay conscious so he could protect me.  I used the energy I had stolen and focused on the other hostages, I couldn’t let them keep their memories of me at my lowest.  Killing them to protect my secret was unfair, but there was another choice, and I knew how to deal with them, thanks to my father I knew exactly how memories worked.  I knew that a big trauma would be enough to erase their memory of the last few minutes, with the adrenaline and the impact of the situation, I was sure none of them had had time to store the memories in the long term part of the brain, and a trauma would erase them before they had the chance.  I gathered my powers and went inside their minds, letting the attack go and burning their minds.  The last attack was too strong and too painful and I lost the battle with the darkness, I passed out.

“Kaiserin, Kaiserin!” Kimball’s voice was reaching me from far away, he sounded scared, worried, and all I wanted to do was to calm him and tell him everything was going to be ok.

“Kimball…”  I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids were too heavy.

“Please, just hold on,” Kimball said, but he sounded as bad as I felt.  I remembered where we were, and why.  The rest of the hostages had also passed out because of my last attack, and our enemies were either dead or dying.  I finally managed to open my eyes and I saw Kimball, he looked bad.  I took what was left of the energy I had stolen and gave it to him, he needed it more than me.  “What are you doing?”  he asked, he was feeling the energy and knew exactly what I was doing.

I started shaking, and I felt my nose bleeding.  The psychic headache was hurting too much, but we still had to get out of that place, we needed to escape.  Kimball would have to do it, because I couldn’t go on, I was at my limit, and I couldn’t hold on, I passed out again.

I woke up screaming, my shoulder felt on fire.

“I’m sorry,” Kimball said, his voice was weak and his breathing was getting worse.  “I needed to fix your shoulder, I still need to work on the other one,” he warned.  After the pain faded a little I realized I could move my arm again, but then Kimball grabbed my other shoulder, and when he pulled I passed out again.

I was surrounded by shadows, I was cold and was feeling those dark beings touching me and stealing the heat I had left, they were making me sick.  I felt like I needed to be somewhere else, but I didn’t know where, I just knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, and I wanted to get away.  I felt something pulling at me, and I found myself being pulled out of there.

“Kaiserin,” someone was calling my name.  Everything was hurting, my body was on fire and my head felt as if it was going to break in two.  “Kaiserin, we need to get out of here,” but that wasn’t possible, I couldn’t move, I was in too much pain.  “Kaiserin,” it took me a moment to identify the person calling me.  It was Kimball, my Kimball, my life, my love.  How could I forget him even for a moment?

I still couldn’t believe what they had done, they had brought my nightmares to life, and it was thanks to Kimball that I was holding on, I knew that without him I would have lost contact with reality and I wouldn’t be able to differentiate between nightmares and reality.  I could feel his arms around me, he was being careful because of my injuries.

“I just need a minute,” I asked, but my words sounded false even to my own ears.

“You need to activate the suppressor,” he said, “you are losing control, and the pain is only going to get worse, I can’t lose you because of a psychic headache,” he explained, but the idea of being without my powers again scared me.

“I’m scared,” I confessed.  I felt like something bad was going to happen, but then I realized why he was so worried, the floor was vibrating with my power, and I realized my powers were out of control, I was about to get into a destructive spiral, but even then, the idea of being powerless made me hesitate.  “Please, don’t let anyone hurt me,” I asked, even knowing that Kimball was also hurt.  I managed to get my hand on my necklace, Kimball’s gift, and used it to save me again, not by freeing my powers, but by suppressing them.

An explosion shook the cellar, and a moment later I heard people running inside.  I hugged Kimball and hid on his side.  I heard voices, some of them sounded angry, others surprised, and at first I couldn’t even understand what they were saying, but I wasn’t paying that much attention, I was at my limit and afraid, because I was powerless.  I thought about disabling the suppressor so I could fight, I could at least save Kimball.

“Is she alive?” the voice sounded familiar, and there was pain in his question.

“Kaiserin, it’s ok, help just arrived,” Kimball said, and tried to move to see who had arrived, but it took too much effort, and I couldn’t move that much.

“Kaiserin?” another familiar voice, that one close to me, too close and I couldn’t protect myself.  I wanted to believe Kimball would protect me, that if he said I was safe, then I was, but when I felt a hand on my leg I did my best to move away from the touch.

“Don’t let them hurt me,” I asked Kimball, and I heard a weird sound, like a sob, and someone started cussing, I wasn’t sure why.

“They are here to help, not hurt you.  Let Soriya help, she can heal you,” Kimball explained.

“I don’t need her help, I will be fine, I just need to rest and I will be fine.  You need help, you are hurt, my fault, you were hurt because of me,”  I felt the hand back on my leg, and I tried to get away again.  I was able to turn enough to see the woman, and I realized she was crying.

“It’s ok, let me help.”

“I’ll be fine, help Kimball.  I don’t want him to die, not because of me, I will be fine, I just need to rest,” I tried to let Kimball go, I wanted to give them space so they could help him, I had finally recognized them, and I knew I could trust them, they wouldn’t hurt me, they had sworn to protect me, and the best way to help me was by helping Kimball.  “I just need to close my eyes for a minute, save Kimball, I will be fine, I will be ok…”  I went back to the astral plane where there was no pain.  I knew what I was doing, I needed to go up.  In the superior astral planes I could find peace, I could recover.