A heavy silence fell over the room, Kimball’s words had certainly caused a big impression. Then Vultur’s laugh broke the silence, getting everyone back to the moment.
“Good joke,” Vultur said, “but what you say it’s impossible, especially in that time frame. Do you really believe that if it was that easy to get rid of us we would still be here? We are mostly nomads, and you can’t destroy what you can’t find.”
“I know I can do that, in fact, I’m certain that your clan will no longer exist in 48 hours. And I can prove it,” he added, and I could see the smile on his face, but even knowing how mad he was and his desire to make Vultur pay, I also knew it was hard for him to even think about committing genocide. “Ethan? Can you show Vultur the Intel we have?”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to show our cards?” Ethan asked, but I got what Kimball was trying to do, and I knew it was a good idea.
“Just do as I ask,” he said, his tone of voice making it clear there was no room for questions.
For a moment the image on my screen went black, and when it returned I realized that the camera’s angle had changed, I understood that Ethan had used his technopathy and the components on his gabardine to create a projector. On the wall behind the throne, was a map of the Empire and the northern territories, occupied by the Rebel Clans. One by one, little points started to show on the map.
“Those are the twelve known camps of the Scavengers,” Kimball said, “and those are the ones no one knows,” he added as eight more points appeared on the map, causing another round of whispers and murmurs, even a few protests from those that recognized some of those points to be inside their territories. “I think that there are a few you forgot to mention to your new friend, the Emperor.”
“If you think you are going to blindside me with that information, you’re wrong,” Pompeyo said, “I’m aware of all the territories the Scavengers occupy, and the fact that you got your hands on some classified information won’t change anything.”
“Then you knew about the camp they set on part of your territory?” Kimball asked, pointing to a point on the map a few miles from the Palace, one that should have been considered Imperial territory.
“They have my permission to be there, you could say I allowed them the use of that territory in exchange of access to all the territories they control in the North.”
“It is pretty impressive that you have that information,” Vultur said, trying to seem calm, but I could see that he was rattled by the situation, some of those points were well guarded secrets, and even some people in their own clan shouldn’t know about it, “but knowing that information won’t help us defeat us, even if you managed to attack one or two of those camps, the others will have enough time to leave or set a counter attack. Not to mention that some are so far from each other that your people won’t have time to move from one to the other in time.”
“Ethan, connect to the attack satellites, I think it’s time to show our new enemies what we are capable of.”
“What target do you have in mind?” Ethan asked, and I knew that much depended on Kimball’s answer, in the remote case he choose a different target than the one I had in mind, the situation would become very complicated.
“What do you suggest? The closest one would be a good choice to show them what we can do, don’t you think?”
“I think that is the location that will have the biggest impact,” Ethan said, and I felt better knowing everything was going according to plan. “Everything is ready, just tell me when to push the button.”
“I haven’t given you the codes,” Kimball said, looking over his shoulder at Ethan, a question in his look.
“Getting those codes was child’s play,” Ethan said, and both his father and I stopped for a moment to think about his statement, the launching codes were a extremely dangerous thing if they fell into the wrong hands. “Just waiting for your signal.”
“I want you to understand something,” Kimball told Vultur, “we didn’t need to get this far, you asked for this, and the extinction of your clans rests only on your shoulders.”
“I’m not intimidated by your empty threats, I know there is nothing you can do against us.”
At Kimball’s signal, the image on the wall started to zoom into one of the points in the map, the one closer to their location, the one they had said used to be Imperial territory, soon, they had eagle eyes of the camp. There was no movement in the area, but it was, without a doubt, a camp that had been recently settled.
“Do you recognize the place?” Kimball asked, as everyone watched the image with curiosity. “That’s the camp you left this morning,” he kept going, not waiting for him to answer, “in which, I understand, an important part of your followers, including those you were willing to protect, are waiting for you.”
“I have no idea how you got this, but that doesn’t matter, my people knows how to protect themselves, and they won’t fall even if you attack them.”
“This is an attack they won’t see coming,” with a signal, Kimball let Ethan know it was time to give him the control, I knew that Kimball would never put on Ethan’s shoulders the weight of all the killings an attack like that was going to cause. With a gesture on his computer, Kimball launched the attack.
The people in the room was watching the projected image on the wall, waiting to see what would happen, but not knowing what they were expecting. The image was lost for a moment, replaced by a strong light that blocked visibility, when it came back, all you could see were the remains of the camp in the middle of a crater, behind a thick smoke.
“What the hell did just happen?” Maddan was the first to break the silence, asking what everyone was wondering.
“You just witnessed the destructions of the Scavenger’s camp,” Kimball made another signal to Ethan and the original map appeared again, the point that moment before had been green changing to a dark red. “In an hour and a half, the next camp will disappear, and then the next one and the next one, until all camps have been destroyed. My soldiers will go there to ensure no one escapes and no one survives. So even if you manage to warn your people of what’s happening, my people will contain them and eliminate them.”
“This is a trick,” Vultur said, he clearly didn’t believe what was going on.
I could see Maddan and Pompeyo having a heated discussion through the camera, it was clear something was bothering them. Vultur didn’t notice what was going on next to him, focused on Kimball and what he still believed to be empty threats. A new point in the map flashed and a new camp was zoomed in, next to it was a countdown.
“That’s one of our Nurseries!” one of Vultur’s companions said. “My children are there.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Gyps, they are just trying to scare us, there is no way they could manage an attack like the one they claim, there’s no way they can destroy a territory that big.”
“My people just let me know that there was a huge flash of light followed by a column of smoke rising from the direction of the Scavenger’s camp,” Pompeyo said. “Some of our sentries are already moving closer to investigate the place, but it is a real possibility that they have attacked your camp.
“You have to do something,” Gyps insisted, “if their threats are real, we could be facing the extinction of our people.”
“They have to be lying,” Vultur insisted, “no one can make an attack like that, and even if he did, then that would be a war declaration, and we could call on our allies to help. They will help us destroy him and his clan before he has a chance to destroy us.”
“Vultur is right about something, an attack on one of our allies is an attack on the Empire. You have not only recognized the attack in front of all of us, there is nothing that will stop us from going after you for this.”
“My son and I walked in here with the promise of free pass, that means we get to walk outside without harm,” Kimball said, his even tone showing he wasn’t intimidated by Pompeyo’s threat. “As you know, our actions does not represent a direct attack against the Imperialists, just the Scavengers, so there is no conflict between our clans right now. Once the Scavengers are no longer, any issue between our clans should also disappear.”
“You will stop whatever is going on right now,” Pompeyo threatened, “or you will be facing the whole Empire.”
“Technically, it wouldn’t be all the Empire, since my clan has alliances with some of the clans that form the Empire, including your most powerful allies and most of the coastal clans that are closer to our territory. By the time you can move enough troops to attacks our territory, this war will be already over.”
“I think you don’t understand the situation,” Pompeyo said, getting our of his seat, “I’m Emperor Pompeyo, son of Emperor Trajan, grandson of Emperor Kamose. Maybe being isolated has given you a wrong impression of how things are here, but let me be clear, I’m not the kind of person you want as your enemy.”
“I’m sorry, you seem to be under the misconception that you are the first Emperor I have met,” Kimball casually commented, and I didn’t need my powers to see what was about to happen.”
“And that’s not right?”
“Kid, if you keep pushing for a fight, you won’t even be the first one I defeat,” Kimball’s words weren’t received with surprised whispers, but with outraged screams, what he was saying was impossible for most of them, and I knew things were about to get worse.
“That’s nonsense,” Pompeyo said, angry, “there is no way a simple mutant like you could face an Emperor, even less defeat one.”
“17 years, 7 months and 5 days ago, your father went to a mission in Naturalist’s territory, his convoy was attacked on the way and he was found by the Naturalists a few hours later, on the bottom of a small ravine,” Pompeyo was staring incredusly at Kimball, but Maddan put his hand on his shoulder and a silent exchange took place between them, one that made Pompeyo pay more attention to what Kimball was saying, “that’s the only time I met your father, and the victory was mine.”
“How do I know you are telling the truth?” Pompeyo asked. “Even if it’s impressive you made up such a detailed story, even remembering the exact day.
“I remember so well that day, because it was the day my son was born. Which takes me to my other victory, since your father is not the only Emperor I have defeated.
“That’s not true,” Flora from the Naturalists said, moving closer to the throne. “She was only five months pregnant when she stopped at our clan’s.”
“What are you talking about?” Pompeyo was losing control, and it was showing by the way he was getting angrier.
“I think that in the middle of all this I forgot to introduce myself,” Ethan interrupted, “I have a lot of names and titles, I’m heir to two old dynasties, well, technically three, but I’m only going to mention the relevant part: my name is Ethan, grandson of Empress Sultana and Emperor Kamose and son of Empress Kaiserin.”
“Kaiserin?” several voices asked. Some because they didn’t know about me, others because mine was a name they haven’t heard in a long time.
“You were the one after Kaiserin when she went looking for refuge in our clan,” Flora accused, her words barely audible under the people’s chatter. “You were the person she was running from.”
“That’s right,” Kimball said, “Ethan is our son. And as I said, I’m only trying to do what’s best for everyone. You should be grateful I’m only going for an alliance, because if I wanted, I could take control of this territory. I’m not afraid of you, because I have defeated others like you, and even if your aunt proved to be a hard opponent to defeat, your father was an easy target. Now, the Scavenger’s Clan has signed their death sentence, we can keep this charade going and wait until it is done to continue this discussion, or you could accept an alliance with us right now. Believe me, it’s far better for you to have us as allies than as enemies.”
“Be careful, Kimball, that sounds like a threat, and I don’t care who you say you are of who you claim to have defeated, I won’t allow you to come into my clan and talk to me like that.”
In the middle of the fighting and discussions that were going on, Vultur had started to move closer, intending on attacking Kimball, I could see him moving, but even if his back was to me, I knew that Kimball was aware of the danger, even so, before Vultur could reach Kimball, Gyps moved in and without hesitation grabbed Vultur’s head and twisted, breaking his neck. Vultur’s body fell limp to the floor and another silence fell over the room.
“There is no need for this drama,” Gyps said, “if you promise to stop the attacks on the Scavenger’s Clan, I will recognize our alliance so the Shadows can become part of the Empire.”
“I think it’s a little late for that,” Kimball said.
“You can’t continue this attack,” Gyps repeated, and edge of desperation to her tone.
“What’s your name?” Ethan asked.
“I’m Gyps, Vultur’s sister and new leader of the Scavengers.
“I think we should listen to her,” Ethan said.
“No, we can’t trust them, they have already proven that we can’t trust their word, an alliance between us wouldn’t work.”
“But we can trust her,” Ethan said.
“And how do you know that?”
“Because mother said that if Gyps took control of the Scavengers, then we could renegotiate our alliance.”
“At this moment I don’t feel like giving them a chance, I think that the way to go is total destruction of the clan that has been nothing but a pain for most clans. If your mother wanted me to tell me something, she should have done that herself,” he added in a lower voice, low enough for Ethan’s mic to caught it, but not loud enough for other to catch that.
The message was clear, and I knew it was time for me to get involved. I was a little nervous for what was about to happen, I knew that at the end what I was doing wasn’t only for me, but for Kimball’s best interest, and for our future in the Empire. The masks had already fallen and the secrets had been exposed anyway, and I couldn’t let Kimball keep playing with my reputation. I initiated the call, and a moment later the map behind the throne disappeared to be replaced by me. I could see myself on the screen, hiding in the shadows, just my figure and part of my face visible, I wanted to keep playing the mysterious game as long as possible.
“What do you think you are doing?” Kimball asked, not even bothering to try and hide his anger at my call.
“I think you need help with this situation, and even if I’m not happy with your behaviour up until now, I have decided to help,” I said. Most of the people present were from a younger generation and didn’t have a clue of what was going on, but those who had been there at the same time as me, that were trying to accept the fact that it was me on the wall. I couldn’t see everyone’s reaction from my point of view, but I knew that what was going on at that moment would change everything.
“Help? You said this would be easy, but the Scavengers betrayed us once again.”
“And you are the only one to blame for this, if you hadn’t arrived with that rotten attitude, it wouldn’t have been so obvious the Imperialist’s contempt and the Scavenger’s wouldn’t have been brave enough to challenge you like that. This is your fault, and now you have to fix this.”
“The Scavengers chose their own destiny,” his tone final.
“The Scavengers had made a lot of mistakes, most of them don’t even understand the concept of honor, but that’s not a reason to start a genocide if you can conquer them and use them for your benefit. There is still hope for that clan, and only one person who can help them, Gyps. Vultur’s death at the hands of his sister have changed everything. It’s not necessary to end their clan if she is the one leading them.”
“I don’t need your help, I can handle this, so go get some rest.”
“Kimball, don’t pretend that winning a few battles makes you the winner of the war.”
“So now it’s a war what we have?”
“I don’t know exactly what we have going on,” I said, gesturing between us,” What I know is that I’m winning, no matter what lies you have told them.”
“You know that I never lie, and you said it yourself, I have won a few battles, we just have to see who has the final victory. In the meanwhile, why don’t you stop getting into my clan’s bussiness and go handle your own problems?”
“You and I know that I’m not good at following orders, what I’m good at, is giving them, so this is your first order: take control of the situation and take the Scavengers under your control. I know that you can’t let them go without consequences, but this could be your first lesson at how to treat your defeated enemies.”
“We don’t have the time to supervise another clan, we can’t be always worrying about keeping them under control. You know that’s one of the reasons Mzansi, and therefore the Shadow’s Clan, never tried to conquer territory in the Empire.”
“That’s what you have allies for,” I sent Ethan a message, and my face disappeared to show the map again, “one of the problems everyone always had with the Scavengers is that they take territories that are on the edge or even inside other’s clan’s territories, luckily for the Shadows, most of those territories are from your allies, so there won’t be an issue if the Scavenger’s territory is divided between your allies and the people on those camps go under those clans’ control.”
“You said this was a chance for my clan to redeem itself, but it seems you are trying to take our territory and make our people other clan’s slaves,” Gyps protested.
“You said it yourselves, you are nomads, if you weren’t such a pest for other clans, there wouldn’t be a problem with your allies allowing free transit for your people or allowing you to set camp in their territories, but for the others to allow you that freedom, you need to gain their confidence first. Your path won’t be easy, but first of all you need to learn to be more humble and learn how to work with others, and to keep your word. If you manage to do that, you will be able to recover your status.”
“I don’t know who you are,” Pompeyo interrupted, “but you can’t come here and decide the destiny of a clan, especially not an ally of the Empire.”
“I was participating in the creation and destructions of clans before you were even born, and I know the rules better than you. If you had accepted the Shadows into the Empire, they would fall under your rules, but you didn’t, so they are out of your control. Right now, the Scavengers are at the mercy of the Shadows, and they have to decide if they want to submit to them, or face their destruction. Now, what’s left,” I told Kimball, “is that the Emperor decides if he is finally going to recognize the Shadows as part of the Empire, or if he will keep trying to avoid it.”
“You are Kaiserin, the coward that abandoned her clan and her family,” Pompeyo said, finally getting the picture and trying to regain control. “You are crazy if you think that after everything you have done, you can come and tell me what to do, you lost that chance a long time ago.”
“I’m trying to give you advice, a chance,” I said, trying not to let his words affect me, “I’m trying to save you from trouble. You know if you want to follow my words, or if you are going to let your pride get over the wellbeing of your clan. Kimball, I know you will take the right decision with the Scavengers, but I know that even if you are capable of terrible things, you are a pacifist at heart, and you don’t want the blood of an entire clan in your hands, that’s why my people and I have your back.”
I knew that after my intervention everything would change, but I trusted that my words would be heard and that Kimball would find the way to fix things and secure the alliance. There was still a chance he would end up in the dungeon, but I was confident he would get out of there without much damage, so I ended the call, trusting Kimball to do his best.