Chapter 59-b

When the people from the Shadow’s Clan entered the room, every eye focused on them.  It wasn’t just because the new group had arrived, it was because of Zola, an older woman and Nelson, dressed in a suit, and not the uniform his compatriots were wearing, they were obviously out of place, being nothing like the rest of the people gathered in that room.

Some faces were showing naked hostility, others were watching with curiosity, and still a few were looking at them in a friendly way.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” Pompeyo said from his place on the throne.

“It seems our invitation was lost, but that’s not an issue, like I told you the last time I was here, we have ways of knowing what’s going on, you can’t get rid of us so easily.”

“It seems that way,” Pompeyo went silent, because a new group was walking in, Antrax, Malkia, Greca, Dendro and another Assassin entered the room and Pompeyo’s attention turned to them.  “I thought I had been very clear the last time we met, she is not welcome in this place.”

“She is my partner and not allowing her in here is an insult to my clan, and an offense I can’t let go,” Antrax said.  “You will have to get used to seeing her here, whether you like it or not.”

“I think you don’t understand how things work, new leader of the Assassins’ Clan, I’m the one in charge, the one who makes the rules, you are the ones who follow them, I won’t stand this insubordination, no one disobeys my orders no matter who he is.”

“You are the one who asked for our clan to come here, that includes my partner.  Either you accept us all, or we all walk out of here.  Are you willing to put at risk an alliance generations old over this?”

“Be careful Antrax, again you are talking as if you are threatening me,” Pompeyo warned.  “That doesn’t change anything, you disobeyed a direct order and I can’t allow that.  If I let you get away with it, then everyone will think they can do the same.  Guards, take Malkia to the dungeon, if she is so eager to visit the Palace, then lets start her visit from the bottom.”

“I won’t let you take my partner away,” Antrax said, facing Pompeyo.

“With all due respect, Your Majesty, I won’t let you take me away that easily,” Malkia said, moving from behind Antrax and standing next to him.

“I will gladly take care of them,” Alukah offers, eager to fight Malkia.

“That’s not necessary,” Pompeyo says, “I can take care of them.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Kimball cuts in.

“This has nothing to do with you,” Pompeyo replies.

“Everything that has to do with Malkia and the Assassins is my business.  She is part of my family, and because of that she has the protection of my clan.  Do you really want to continue with this?” Kimball’s words, instead of helping, only make Pompeyo feel more threatened, and push him to put everyone in their places.

“My orders won’t change, you have two options, you either send her back to your clan and promise not to let her out of it again, or you let her stay here, in which case she will become a permanent resident of our dungeon.”

“If you think you can intimidate me so easily, is because you know nothing about me,” Malkia said, not letting herself be intimidated by Pompeyo’s words and attitude.

‘We can do this in a civilized manner so we don’t have any problems, or you can keep fighting back, in that case, I promise you won’t walk out of this room alive,’ Pompeyo sent the thought to Malkia.

“That’s not a good idea,” Ethan said.  “You have no idea what you are facing.”

“We are the Imperial Clan, do you think we are afraid of a couple of clans?”

“Is not the Shadows or the Assassins you have to worry about,” Zola said, speaking for the first time, and surprising everyone by the strength of her voice and the command in her tone, “it’s Kaiserin you should be worry about.”

“I’m the Emperor, I’m not afraid of cowards that don’t even have the courage of coming here.”  Right at that moment, following Pompeyo’s silent command, the guards around the room moved, trying to surround the Assassins, but before they got to their positions, the whole room trembled.  “What was that?” Pompeyo asked, turning to see Maddan, the one in charge of security.

“That’s must be my mother,” Ethan said, “I think it’s time for you to finally meet her face to face.”

“No one can get inside this place without authorization.”

“Kaiserin used to be a Captain of the Royal Guard, she knows all the secret entrances and she has the powers to come here without being detected if she wants,” Maddan said.

“You give her too much credit,” Pompeyo answer, “and anyway, she is not welcome here either, find her and take her to the dungeons, maybe she can share a cell with her daughter.”

“The last time Kaiserin decided to crash a reunion in this room, I was unable to stop her, I’m pretty sure it will be the same this time.”

“If you are afraid, then I can take care of her,” Ratu offered.

Before her offer could be accepted, another crash sounded and the building shook, then the doors of the room opened, on the other side the bodies of the guards could be seen on the floor, and in the middle of the chaos, Kaiserin was standing.

Advertisements

Chapter 59

I woke up to people talking around me, I froze for a moment, trying to get a reading of the situation, to find out what was happening and why, it only took me a few seconds to place the voices and see they belonged to Kimball and Ethan, and to know I was safe, even if my body hurt and my head felt like it had been hit by mallet.

“How are you feeling?” Kimball asks, he clearly wasn’t going to be fooled into thinking I was still asleep.

“I think that right question is, in the scale of 1 to 10, how strong is your desire to drill into your head?” Ethan asked.  It was a joke he liked to make, he always said that when having a psychic headache he felt like drilling his head to let the pain get away.

“I think that at the moment I would really appreciate some silence, my head does feel like it’s about to explode.”

“I think you forced yourself too much this time,” Kimball reprimanded me.  “I’m not blaming you for that, I know that you did what you needed to do, and I would have done the same in your position, but you pushed yourself too hard.  You have been sleeping for almost twenty hours and we needed to give you an IV just to give you some liquids and nutrients,” I hadn’t noticed the IV until he mentioned it.

“I’m just tired, what happened wasn’t that bad,” both Kimball and Ethan looked at me in a way that made it clear they weren’t buying my words, but that wasn’t important, for the moment all I needed was a few more minutes of rest.

“I will call for some food, you need real food, before you think of anything else,” I knew that anything I said would be a waste, it was obvious Kimball was worried and he would do whatever he thought was best, besides, I was hungry and wouldn’t say no to something to eat.

“Can you bring me up to speed while we wait for our food?” I knew that Kimball wanted to wait until things were calm, but I wasn’t going to be able to relax until I had an update on what had happened.

“All you need to know is that everything is alright,” Kibmall said, and I turned to see Ethan.

“That’s true,  nothing interesting to report.  Right now the discussion is all about what they are going to do with that think they created, they are debating between destroying it or studying it.  Some think it’s too dangerous to keep, others are dying to find out what applications it could have.”

“So they still have it here, from what they said I thought it was too dangerous to keep here, what happens if it gets out of control again?”

“We found a way to keep it stable, and right now they are updating the security protocols to make sure there isn’t another incident like it, to make sure we will be able to stop it before it causes damage.”

“I will have to trust you,” was all I couldn’t think of answering, and it was true, I trusted them, if they thought there was no danger, then I had to believe them.

After getting something to eat and rest for a while, the headache finally calmed down enough for me to be able to take the suppressor off and get my powers back.  It didn’t matter if the suppressor was needed to minimize the pain and speed up the healing, having it on affected me more than I cared to admit.

Everything had gone back to normal and I felt rested and much more calm, still, the peace didn’t last for long, just a few weeks later, while we were in Mzansi, I got a vision that pushed everything else to the back.  In just an instant time had gone by and a new Clan’s Reunion had arrived.  It was time to get ready and prepare for another trip, one that would have a bigger impact.

The first step, as always, was to get Fatima and ask her to take a walk through the fog with me.  I knew that the vision I had was not written in stone, I knew there were alternative endings, that there was something I could do to avoid it, and just as I expected, I was able to see many paths opening before me, paths where I could make sure everything was fine, and that not unnecessary deaths would take place.

“What do you have at the moment?” Kimball asked.

“I have a date, and since we are part of the Empire we can be there, even if we haven’t been officially summoned, as allies we are automatically invited, all we have to do is be there.”

“Are you going with us?” Ethan asked, assuming he was going to be part of the group.

“No, not yet.  There is a chance there is another fight between Antrax and Pompeyo, and there is a chance there won’t.  By being there I will only make the situation worse.  There is a chance nothing happens, in which case my presence won’t be necessary, but if things start to get back, you can be sure I will get there, but to avoid problems between the clans, if I go, I will go not as a Shadow, but as a former member of the Imperial Clan.”

“Won’t it be problematic if you go there and don’t present yourself as part of our family?” Kimball asked.

“There is a rule that says that only five representatives from each clan can go to the reunion, if I go and say I’m part of your clan, there the Shadows will be over represented and that can cause trouble, but if I go there and ask my place as part of the Imperial Clan, at least in name, then they won’t be able to accuse you of having more people than allowed.”

“Even if you play that card, everyone knows you are part of my clan, I’m not sure most people will buy that argument as easily as you think.”

“Don’t worry about that, I can be very convincing when I need to.  For now, what’s important is getting ready for our trip.”

Both Kimball and Ethan accepted my words, I was the expert, after all, and if I said that it was the best way to deal with the situation, they had to accept that.

I knew that we were taking great risks, but those were necessary.  If there was a chance for things to resolve peacefully, if Pompeyo and Antrax were capable of reaching an understanding, then I would stay away, but if there was a slight chance of things getting out of control and putting the lives of my loved ones at risk, then I would have to intervene, no matter the consequences.

Getting ready for our trip was easy, so we prepared everything so we would be able to spend some time with my daughters in case I didn’t get to be part of the Reunion.  We arrived at the Empire with more than enough time to get to the reunion, and set camp on the route I knew the Assassins were going to take.  With the help of mzansiers’ technology, it was easy to hide our camp, we used the same camouflage tech that had surprised me so much the first time I had been in one of their camps.  From the road the Assassins were coming, it would be impossible for them to know there was a camp there, but I was sure than once they were close, my daughters would be able to tell there was something in the way.

Ethan had offered to wait for them and receive them, he was sitting in the middle of the road, just a few yards from the camp.  Since I didn’t want to miss the show, I was hidden near him, in the tree line, something Ethan had caught even if I was using some of my tricks to hide my position.

“Greetings,” Ethan said to the Assassins’ scouts.  “I’m waiting for Malkia and Antrax, please let them know that Ethan is here.”

The soldier didn’t look convinced, but he turned around without attacking Ethan, and that was a good sign.  Ethan turned to see me and then put his attention back on the road.  A few minutes later the rest of the Assassins’ caravan came into view.

“We need to stop meeting like this,” Malkia said, approaching Ethan.

“Ethan! It’s so good to see you, are you alone?” Greca asked.

“Of course not,” Malkia said, her eyes turning to where the camp was, then turning and staring directly at the shadows where I was hiding, with Greca turning my way a moment later.

“I can’t say how glad I am to see you again.  I hope you can accept our invitation to spend the night at our camp,” I told my daughters.

“I think it would be pointless to ask how you knew we were going to be here,” Antrax said, moving to stand next to Malkia.  “But you should know we already picked a place to set camp for tonight.”

“I just want to spend some time with my family, you don’t have a problem with that, do you?  Nothing is going to happen if my daughters stay with me tonight, you have more than enough time to reach the Palace tomorrow.”

“I guess the camp you’re talking about is behind us, right?  I can feel a huge settlement, but I can’t see it.”

“That’s one of the Mzansier’s many tricks.  You are right, the camp is right behind us,” I took a small remote control, one Kimball had given me, and disabled the camouflage on the camp for a moment, so the Assassins could see the three huge structures we had set.

“That’s impressive,” Antrax said, even if he sounded more angry than impressed.

“Just wait until you see the interior,” Ethan added, clearly trying to get a rise out of Antrax.

We moved in silence to the main tent, where Kimball was already waiting for us with some food ready.  My daughters avoided asking questions, but I could feel their curiosity, they were just willing to accept the fact that we had appeared in the middle of nowhere for the chance to talk to them.

For a while we just enjoyed our mutual company, talking about superficial topics and enjoying the food.  Dendro, as always, was happy for the chance to talk to us, but it was clear that Antrax didn’t share his feelings, he was on the other side of the common room, staring at us, with an attitude that made it clear he didn’t like the situation we were in.

“Are you finally going to present yourself to the rest of the clans?” Greca asked, voicing the question everyone had.

“The Shadows’ representatives are going to be there, but I will stay away unless my presence becomes necessary.  With the way things are between Pompeyo and your clan, my presence would only make things worse, I don’t want to be the excuse he uses to start something with you.”

“We can take care of Pompeyo, you don’t have to worry about him,” Antrax said, as if my actions were an insult to him.

“He is the Emperor, and despite his behavior, the fact is that he is the most powerful warrior in the Imperial Clan, and he can be a powerful enemy.”

“I’m not afraid of him,” Antrax declared.

“Then you are a fool,” I replied.  If that was the attitude he was going to have while facing Pompeyo, it wasn’t surprising that the situation had such a high possibility of getting out of control.

Antrax opened his mouth, and I was sure he was ready to say something I wouldn’t care for, but he was interrupted before he had the chance to speak.

“I would think twice before speaking,” Kimball said, “you don’t reach our age, getting over multiple battles without learning a thing or two, you should listen and learn, instead of rejecting and fighting.”

“Everything was fine before you decided to come here, and they would still be fine without you.  I don’t need your help of constant interference.”

“What you may not understand is that we didn’t come just now, we allowed you to see us, but we have always been here, watching from the shadows and helping when it was necessary, and we will keep doing it as long as it’s necessary.”

Chapter 58

It was always difficult to be apart from my family, but it was a necessary evil.  With as King and Ethan as his shadow, learning from him, their place was in the capital, but I still had my own responsibilities in , because of that I needed to stay away from them for a few days and spent time in there.  Besides my responsibilities as the governor of , I also had some duties to perform as the new Queen of Mzansi, but I actually enjoyed them, and if compared to everything I had to do while ruling the Dominion, my new jobs were easy.

“Did you call for me?” Fatima asked.

“That’s right, I need your help.  As you know there is a storm moving our way, we already took all necessary precautions, but I still have a bad feeling, I need you to help me evaluate the situation, I need to make sure that we will be fine and there is no risk lurking our way.”

“Are we talking a walk through the fog?”

“That’s right.  I need you to act as my anchor, if there is really a problem in our future, I can’t risk losing myself in the fog, the storm is almost upon us.”

“This is not our first storm, I’m sure that everything will be fine.  Besides, you know you can count on me for anything you need.”

“I know, and I’m grateful for that.”

was not the same it used to be.  At first it had been designed to be completely hidden, undetectable, but once the refugees had left it and I had been in control of the Dominion, the need for secrecy had decreased, so we had decided to make a few changes.  A floating platform was created to connect Aquarium with the surface, it was easier to reach it and more accessible for other that needed to travel there.  But it was still a safe place, and even if it was easier to locate it, not everyone could get inside.  It was the same with its security features, Aquarium had been designed to withstand the harsh ocean environment, there was no reason why the storm could affect us, and still, the feeling wouldn’t go away, and normally my feelings had a reason to be, I couldn’t just ignore them, that would have been dangerous.

Fatima and I went to a safe place, with a couple of warriors that would make sure we were safe while we were in a trance.  As always, walking into the fog was a unique experience, the different paths extending in front of me were an overwhelming sight, but at the same time it was a spectacle worth enjoying, not many had the chance to experience something like that.

The easiest way to search for the problem was to look into the paths connected to me, if something was going to happen to , it would affect me directly, once I found the reason of my bad feeling, I would be able to walk a different path until I found the root of the problem.

It didn’t take long to find the problem, found the cause was harder.  Despite the initial evidence, I refused to believe that someone in Aquarium would be capable of sabotage us, even if everything pointed to that.  Luckily for me, in my search for the cause of the problem and a way to avoid it, I was able to find that it wasn’t intentional, but an unfortunate accident, but that didn’t make our problem any less dangerous.

Fatima’s presence kept me anchored, and I was able to find my way back easily, still, our time frame was less than ideal.  I was aware that every research had its risks, but it had been so long since we started Aquarium and we had never had any issues, that I had stopped worrying about it.  It was just bad luck that our first accident was at the same the storm was going to hit us, limiting our scape routes. Without having to exchange words, for Fatima at least had an idea of the danger we were facing, we moved to the level where the laboratories were located.  Once visions had come to me as both a blessing and a curse.  Not knowing the reason for my bad feeling, I had wrongly assumed it was directly related to the storm, not thinking that the danger could come from inside, and I had lost a lot of time, time that was running out on me.

Using my powers I called some of my guards, and by the time we reached the level, some of them were already there, which of course, had caused a lot of agitation, it wasn’t normal to have soldiers there.

“What’s going on?” Matthew asked, he was in charge of the laboratories, and he had been one of the main collaborators in the Aquarium project.

“We have a problem, one of the experiments you are running is going to have unexpected effects.  I’m not sure what we are looking for, but I know is in one of the chemistry labs, and that is something that’s going to cause a toxic gas.  Do you have any idea what could do that?”

None of our experiments should cause the effect you describe, but you know that every experiment that has even the smallest risk takes place in the most protected part of the lab.  We designed the place so it could be sealed in case of accidents.  We are safe.”

“That’s not what I saw in my vision, and by my calculations, we don’t have much time.  Take me to the area you describe, maybe once in there I would be able to tell which lab is the one at risk.”

We were just going into the area marked as restricted, a place where not many were allowed in, when a young man, visibly shaken, stepped out, one look was enough to know that he was the one in my visions, the one responsible for our problem.

“Doctor,” he called Matthew, trying to control himself, “we have a problem.”

“What kind of problem?”  Matthew’s tone showed concern, he had refused to believe something could happen, but with the young man’s appearance, that belief was turning to ash.

“One of the experiments went out of control, we don’t know if there was an error while programing the environmental variables…”

“We don’t have time for details, tell me what the problem is,” Matthew ordered, which was good, we didn’t have much time.

“The environment where we were studying the toxins went out of control and the samples overheated, some of them exploded and combined with some other substances that were in the lab, those reacted with each other and right now they are producing a toxic gas, one that, based on the samples we were working with, could be lethal.”

“Why do we have lethal toxins in ?” Fatima asked.

“Many toxins have properties that can be used to make medicines,” Matthew explained, “many of the samples we have been working with, come from marine life we don’t usually work with, because they are hard to find in other places.  But we also have a lot substances in the lab that we use for testing, and that could be dangerous by themselves, but still, if that’s the case, we shouldn’t have a problem, we just have to seal the area, and use the extractors to clean it and then disinfect it, all of those tasks are programmed in the protocols.”

“The extractors are not working, and the seals are , it appears the gas is also corrosive.  If we don’t contain it immediately, it can expand to the rest of the lab, even the inhabited areas.  It would be best to evacuate the area, maybe even Aquarium, until we can fix the problem.”

“We can evacuate,” Ivan, who had finally arrived, said.  “The storm is practically over us, it’s not safe to move to the surface and even if we get there, it will be extremely dangerous to take any transportation method.  We still have a few submarines, but those were designed to transport people from the surface to , are not big enough to hold all the people.”

“We need to find a way, we can’t stay here,” the young man insisted.

“This place is full of scientists and researchers, are you saying that you can’t find a solution to this between all of you?” Ivan asked, voice laced with incredulity.

“With time we could find the problem with the systems and make the extractors work, but even if we do that, I’m not sure it will work, the gas has proven to be extremely corrosive,” a woman said, she was wearing a suit that was still wet, as if she had been through a sanitizing shower, she had a helmet in her hand that was dripping water to the floor, forming a small puddle next to her.  I don’t understand the reaction that caused the gas to form, but it already went through the first seal, I think it could do the same to my suit, and any other containing method, I’m not sure I can say that the structure will be able to survive it if exposed long enough.”

“Does the gas has a color?” I asked.

“The gas is kind of grayish, but how is that relevant?” the young man asked.

“If I can see it, then I can contain it,” I said.  “That would give you time to study it and find what happened to it, then find a way to neutralize it.  This is not my field, this is Kimball’s, but as I understand it, every has an antidote, every acid a base to neutralize it, isn’t that right?  Maybe once you get a chance to study the gas you will find a way to neutralize it.”

“That’s a possibility, but is a gas, those are practically impossible to contain, and you need a high concentration of gas to be able to see the color, when it is dispersed, you can’t see it, it’s possible you won’t be able to contain it all.”

“Gather your scientists and start working on something to deal with the problem, I will work on containing the threat.”

“Are you sure you can do it?” Ivan asked, concerned.

“We don’t have many options, I have to try, at least.”

“If you are going to try something like that, you need to wear one of the suits,” Matthew suggested, “that way you will have some protection in case something happens.”

“Understood, for now I suggest you start moving.  Every person capable of working on this needs to come and up, everyone else needs to be taken to a lower risk area, at least until the storm passes.”

“Exactly how long do you think this will last?” Fatma asked.

“The visions weren’t clear, but I’m thinking this won’t be easy.”

And just as I suspected, it turned out to be a titanic task.  Everyone was right to worry, containing a gas was practically impossible.  On other occasions, when I had to deal with dangerous gasses, it was always to keep them away from me, but the situation demanded a different approach, I needed to contain it, something a lot harder.  The suit was making things even harder  for me, because I couldn’t really connect to the air around me, the problem was that it was too dangerous to take that protection off, there was no way to know the damage I could sustain by getting in contact with the gas.

I was finally able to extend my senses to the edge of the area, connecting, little by little, with everything familiar within it, then I started moving what I couldn’t identify, I was aware that I may have been moving more than the gas, since I wasn’t familiar with much of the in the place, and that maybe I was making a bigger mess, but it was my only option.  As it usually happened with gasses, once I started compressing it, it occupied a much smaller volume, and soon the substance that had previously been spread all over the lab, was now occupying a little more than a cubic meter of space.  The effort of sorting the substances and containing the gas had taken all my focus, the power of my double mind, so I was vulnerable, trusting my guards to be able to protect me.

I felt the scientist moving, and taking a sample of the gas so they could work on it and do their experiments.  Like I had told them before, I had no idea how that worked, that’s why I had Kimball and even Ethan knew enough about that to make it work, but I worked in a different way, I could connect to things, controlled them, but just their function, their form.  At that moment, all I could do on my task.  Unlike what I usually did, my work with the gas was a constant, because I couldn’t connect directly to it, but I had to connect to everything around it, like the woman had pointed out I couldn’t trust my eyes, because in small quantities it was almost invisible, and just a particle could do damage, to touch it could be lethal, that’s why I was focusing on finding the odd thing out, something that required a bigger effort.

Time went by and they kept working, just as I was focused on my own task.  It wasn’t easy, my head was hurting because of the effort I was doing, I knew that if I kept going, I was going to end up with a psychic headache.  The silver lining was that since all my focus was on my task, I didn’t have time to worry or wonder about what was going on, time because an abstract concept, nothing could touch me.

‘Kaiserin,’ the whisper reached me, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from or what it meant, ‘they are ready, you can let go,’ the voice asked in my mind.  I could understand what they were asking, but not why, all I knew is that it was very important for me to keep doing what I was doing.  ‘The scientists did their part, now you must do yours.’

The voice kept insisting, and because of that I realized something had changed, the gas I had been containing was now surrounded by something else, something unknown, but somehow familiar, since it wasn’t triggering my powers.  Little by little I started letting go of my hold, noticing how the gas was to take the form of the new container, but it was stopping there.  My powers confirmed that whatever they had built, it was working.

“Are you ok?” a voice that sounded like Kimball asked, but I knew it couldn’t be him.

“Tired,” I said, looking for the owner of the voice, and finding that it was actually Kimball.  “What are you doing here?  How did you get passed the storm?”

“The storm left hours ago, you have been in trance for over 30 hours,” he explained, leaning over me and wiping some blood running out of my nose.  “I know you don’t like to, but I believe that you have a psychic headache, and you need to activate your suppressor.”

Kimball was right, the headache was strong, and I was feeling like my head was about to explode, when I lifted my hand to my necklace to activate it manually, I realized it was shaking.  I managed to grab the brooch and activated the command for the suppressor, the horrible pressure went out, the calm letting me know how much it was hurting me.

“I’m tired,” I repeated, looking at Kimball, whose face had deep worry lines.  “I think I will sleep for a moment,” I said, before letting the darkness claim me.

Chapter 57

I hadn’t felt so alive in a long time, I felt the adrenaline from the competition and the danger of being discovered, running through my veins, filling me with energy.  I made sure that no one was following me, again, checking the illusion masking me and stopping to make sure no one was around every few minutes until I arrived to the building and found the windows of the room that I was targeting.

I used my mind to open the window and then to give me a push to so I could jump to it.  Just as I was about to enter the room the door opened, I froze for a moment, making sure my powers were keeping me hidden, but then I realized it was Kimball at the door, so I jumped into the room and let the illusion drop as we both moved to the crib.

“I guess we will have to call this a tie?” asked Kimball, smiling.

“Technically, I had half of my body inside when you arrived at the door.”

“But my whole body made it inside before yours,” he pointed out.

“I guess we can call it a tie,” I accepted.  Even if I wanted to get another win, the truth was that it wasn’t that important, what was important was that we both had made it to the room without being detected.

We were both focused on the baby when we felt a pressure around us, the metal bit in our clothes pulled us away from the crib.  I knew I could counter the effect easily, but I knew it wouldn’t be right, so I let the warrior that was at the door, pull us away from the baby, putting some distance between us.

“Who are you and what are you doing here?” Malkia asked once the baby was safely in her arms.

“I’m sorry I scared you,” I said, “but I assure you, the last thing I would do is hurt him.”

frozen in her spot, her eyes going from me to Kimball and back to me, as if she was making sure she wasn’t imagining things.  At first she didn’t dare speak up, and when she did, it was just a whisper.

“Mother?”

“I’m really sorry I didn’t tell you about my visit, especially because I made you worry,” we heard steps on the hallway, and a moment later Antrax entered the room, followed by Dendro.

“Kaiserin?” Dendro asked, surprised by my presence.

“Again, I really apologize for coming here unannounced.”

“You will always be welcome in my clan, there was no need to hide,” Dendro told me.

“I have been waiting for you to come for a long time,” Malkia said, and I could feel her conflicting feelings, she wasn’t sure how to act or how to feel.  In the middle of her turmoil I could feel something else, she was feeling betrayed.

“I would have liked to come earlier, but I was waiting for the right moment, I know that tomorrow Dendro will give the control of the clan to Antrax, and you will also become an important part of this clan, it is something I can’t miss.  I have lost a lot of milestones in your life, I wasn’t going to let another one go by.”

“Is that the reason you are here?” I knew she was thinking I was there because of her son, that even if I had never made an effort to visit her, I was doing it for her son.

“That’s not the only reason,” I said, and I could feel her disappointment.  ” planning a visit to assist Antrax’s promotion as leader of the clan, there is a chance nothing will happen, but there is also a possibility that there will be trouble, that’s why we are here.”

“What kind of problems?” Malkia asked, and I had the impression that Dendro had been about to ask the same.

“Predicting the not an easy task.  Every decision we make, every action we take opens a new path in front of us.  What is going to happen here gives us a lot of options.  What I do know is that if I didn’t come here, the possibility of everything working out was only 35%.  If I came here and showed my face, the probability of someone ending up dead was 90%.  I came here, unannounced and hiding, because, if Pompeyo doesn’t realize who I am, and I’m able to help keep things under control, then the chances of no one dying goes up to 80%.”

“When you say someone is going to die in some of those scenarios, you mean one of us?” Antrax asked.

My mind went back to one of the visions I had seen a few days before, one in which and Antrax were and a moment of frustrations ended up with Antrax dying at Pompeyo’s hands, and Malkia’s pain caused a massacre.  But I couldn’t share that vision, I couldn’t predispose him, or the situation could escalate faster than in my visions.  Both of them had grown as heirs of their clans, and had developed a strong relation, by telling Antrax that he could die at Pompeyo’s hands, I could shatter any chance of a good working relationship.

“The problem with sharing what I see in my visions, is that sometimes it can help avoid a certain outcome or minimize risks, but others, the most people know about the future, the worse things will go,” I tried to explain.  “But let me assure you, no one in this room will die if I can avoid it.”

And I was sure that I would do everything in my power to make sure no life was lost, it was bad enough that the happiness of my first grandchild’s birth was shadowed by the vision of killing him in a moment of madness.  The visions surrounding Antrax’s rise to power had been filled with blood and different scenarios in which most people in attendance ended up killing someone or being killed.  I had seen the death of my grandchild and Antrax, but also of my daughters and my nieces and nephews depending on the situation.  During my trip there I had gone over different plans I could use to ensure that my daughter’s and her partner’s celebrations didn’t end up as a bloodbath.

“I hate to think we are at risk, but it’s good to finally be able to talk to you face to face,” Malkia said.  “Why don’t we take this talk to my room?  We will be able to talk without interruptions there.  I will let Greca know that you are here.”  I could feel her uncertainty, she wasn’t sure how to act or what to do.  I could understand how she was feeling, I had dreamed of how it would be in our first meeting, and now that I was there, I wasn’t sure what to do.  the door, but then she stopped, turned to me and offered me the chance to take the baby in her arms.  “Would you like to hold Lason?”

“It would be my honor,” I said, taking the small bundle from her arms.  He was still sleeping, all the commotion in the room hadn’t affected his sleep.

“I will take them to your room, I’ll make sure no one sees them, you can go search for your sister,” Dendro offered, and Malkia agreed.

sure there was no one in the hallway while Dendro opened the door to the adjacent room.  It was easy to see that it was the room of someone important, just as it should be for an heir.  There was a small living room, and that’s where Dendro guided us.  silent, but I could tell he didn’t trust in us, he wasn’t sure of our intentions.

“Who would imagine we would end up sharing a grandchild?” I told Dendro, breaking the silence.

“Not me,” he said, “but I’m glad that’s the case.  It’s been a few years, but I’m glad that you are back with us.  I would ask you, how are you, but I can tell, you look good, you look… .”

“My life haven’t been easy since I left the Empire, but I have to recognize that it had its highlights.  And it’s true, I’m happy with my life,” my eyes went to Kimball before I could stop them.  Kimball was one of the reasons of my happiness.

“I’m glad to hear that.  Many of us were worried for you when you disappeared, many still wait for your return.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, but right then Malkia and Greca walked inside.  Greca was acting with the calmness and  of her position, but as soon as she walked I felt the wave of her feelings hit me.  Unlike her sister whose feelings were more cautious, I could feel Greca’s happiness.

“Ethan isn’t here?” Greca asked, looking around, as if hoping her brother would walk out of his hiding place.

“I’m afraid that this mission required a level of stealth that made it impossible for him to come with us,” Kimball said.  “But I’m sure he will be here with us for our next visit.”

“With one of them is enough,” Antrax mumbled from his side of the room.

“I see Ethan made quite the impression,” I said, I could see that Antrax was not a fan of Ethan, and apparently his relationship with Kimball was complicated, I would see that he felt anger and annoyance at him, but that he also admired him.  I knew that Kimball could be intense, but I wondered what he had done to cause that reaction.

” me that you came because we will have trouble,” Greca said, changing the subject.  “Is that something we should worry about?  Or you have it under control?”

I couldn’t help but smile at the way she spoke and the intensity of her emotions, she had no doubt that if I said I had it under control, then everything would be fine.  “I think I have it under control.”

“Then there’s nothing to worry about,” she told her sister with confidence.  “I remember when she helped me escape and I have no doubt she will be able to help us with any challenge that presents itself.”

“I hope that’s the case,” Malkia said, her eyes moving to Lason.

‘Are you happy here?’ I asked Greca using telepathy, I didn’t want everyone to hear our talk, but I needed to know.  Greca, despite growing up in the Empire, had a  spirit, and for the first time in a long time I wondered if I had done the right thing by leaving her behind.

‘I am, and so is my sister.  Even if I had been given the chance to be somewhere else, I wouldn’t have left my sister behind, and I know she wouldn’t be complete without Antrax and Lason.’  It seemed I had underestimated my daughter, she had been able to look behind my questions to my thoughts and doubts, but I was grateful for that, since her answer and the sincerity behind it had given me peace.

“I think we will leave you so you can talk,” Dendro said, getting up and signaling his son to follow him, “I’m sure you have a lot to talk about and I’s sure you would be more comfortable to continue this chat in private.”

From the moment Greca arrived, she showed she had a lot to talk about, she kept asking questions about everything, from my life to the world I lived in.  There were some things I couldn’t share with her, but I did my best to explain about my life, sharing more information than ever before, but not giving them everything, soon I realized that Greca was like her father, she was able to read between lines and fill the empty spaces.  took longer to warm up, but soon she was also asking questions.  Despite our long talks in the astral planes, I discovered there were a lot we still needed to talk about.

The conversations were so that we didn’t realize the time passing, until Antrax arrived with a tray of food.  Dendro had taken my words seriously and wasn’t going to allow anyone to find out we were in his territory, that’s why his son was fetching our dinner, something that amused Kimball and angered Antrax.

“Tomorrow is going to be a very important day, and I guess we need some rest,” Malkia said.  “You can stay here, Antrax and I will stay in the room we prepared for Lason.”

“Thank you, I’m sorry I’m taking over your room.”

“Don’t worry about it, I spent most of the time visiting Lason anyway, this will save me the trip,” Malkia told us  and moved away, but she wasn’t done with me.  ‘I have heard a lot of stories about you, many theories.  Kimball told me how we met the first time and what you have done for me, and during my visit to the Palace I was told by many that I was the reason you have left.  I didn’t understand your actions, but now I think I get you.’

walked outside, not turning back to see me, it was as if the words she had projected in my mind had never happened, but I knew she had talked to me, and I knew I hadn’t imagined her message.

The next day Antrax brought us some food, and I knew his actions would cause some people to be suspicious, but I was grateful for the care they were taking.  Later that day Antrax and my daughters entered the room.

“You were right about the Emperor, he just arrived to our territory and is on his way here,” Antrax announced.

“Soon you will realize I’m always right,” I told Antrax, who apparently didn’t like my humor.  “What time does the celebration starts?”

“In a couple of hours, just enough time for the Imperialists to arrive and prepare for the ceremony.”

“You said no one could know you were here, but you also said you were going to attend the celebration, what are you going to do?” Greca asked.

“There are a few ways to accomplish my goal, but I think that the best way is to use illusions to hide in plain sight,” as I was speaking, I used my powers to create an illusion around Kimball and , changing our looks so we wouldn’t be recognized.

“That’s incredible!” Greca exclaimed, she didn’t have a problem admitting she was impressed.

“I will try to stay out of the Imperialist’s way, but I really doubt they will be able to see the real face behind the illusion.”

In just a short time we found ourselves in the hall enjoying the festivities, during the celebration Dendro had asked for everyone’s attention and announced to everyone that from that moment on, his son would be the one in charge of the clan and that he would only be an advisor to Antrax.  After presenting his son and my daughter as the new leaders of the clan, a round of applause and congratulations followed, and then the banquet started, with a great number of slaves entering the room, carrying exquisite food to the table.

Kimball had assumed the role of guard and was standing behind me.  I was sitting at the same table as my daughters, but on the other side of the Imperialists, still, I could hear every word they said.

“It is official, then,” Pompeyo said.  “I always believed one day we would be both the leaders of our clans, but this is not exactly how I imagined it.”

“What would you have changed?”

“Your partner, for starters, you could have found someone better,” he said.

“Who better than the descendant of powerful warriors?”

“Her lineage comes from cowards and trash,” Pompeyo replied.

“We share the same grandfather,” Malkia said casually, “I would be more careful before insulting my lineage,” Pompeyo’s gaze moved to Malkia, and I knew he was trying his powers on her, but by looking at smile, I was assured that Malkia was using her sister’s powers to fight back, and even if she didn’t know that, by being there, I was also lending her strength and my own abilities, one of Vlad gifts.

“Your mother was a coward that ran away because she couldn’t deal with the responsibilities of the throne, and your father was a low level warrior who didn’t deserve the position that was given to him.  That’s what you will be, a failure like them.”

“, our clans had been allies for a long time, because of that I ask you to respect the mother of my .”

“Think of the legacy you are giving your by having them as his mother.  It would be better to get rid of them and start again.”

That was one of the turning points, the moment that a seed would be planted in Pompeyo’s mind, one that could be disastrous.  The tension at the table increased.  was the first one to realize the threat behind his words, and she got ready to defend herself and her son.  I saw a couple of warriors moving towards Lason’s room, making sure he was protected, not that they needed to worry, Kimball had prepared some gadgets to protect him from both physical and psychic attacks, besides, he himself had left at the first threat from Pompeyo, knowing that from all of us, was the most vulnerable, and therefore, the one who needed his protection more.  I needed to trust my daughter would be able to deal with the situation, but still I started to use my empathy, trying to calm them down.

“Be careful Pompeyo, that could be misinterpreted as a threat, and that’s not how you should talk to your allies.  Especially not now that you are facing all revolts from the clans under Imperial control, it would be unfortunate that in your time of need you couldn’t count on your allies.”

“Your words could also be misinterpreted as a threat, worse yet, ad treason.”

“I’m not the one who walked into one of his ally’s  and threatened his family…”

‘Careful,’ I sent the warning to Antrax, making sure Antrax would notice the communication.

bit his words back and took a moment to think over his words, realizing the damage the rest of his speech could do if spoken out loud or if managed to read them.  The last thing the young Emperor needed was to be reminded that there was something else fit to occupy his throne while he was still fighting to be recognized by all his subjects.

I increased my efforts to calm them down, increasing the feelings I was sending out, but then I noticed that Alukah was looking around, searching for something.  She had found out someone was trying to affect them.  I knew that if her attention focused on me there was a chance she would be able to see I was using an illusion, so I let my powers go, while and Antrax were in a staring contest, or knowing Pompeyo’s powers, maybe something more.

“What are you afraid of?” Malkia asked him.

“I’m not afraid, I’m the Emperor!”

“Exactly.  You are the Emperor, and I’m the partner of the leader of the Assassins, but your actions and your attitude  that you have something against me, and I doubt is because of my relationship with Antrax.  I don’t care what your problem with me is, you need to get over it, because all you will accomplish with your attitude is to break the relationship our clans have held for generations.”

“I’m not the problem,” Pompeyo said, acting like a little child, and not like the Emperor he was.  His fear of Malkia and everything she represented was affecting his judgement.

I realized Alukah was looking very satisfied with the situation, it looked like once things started escalating she starting feeling better.  I realized that it was not only Pompeyo who was responsible for the problem, there were more people feeding the rivalry.  I knew that I would never get away with influencing the Emperor, no matter how strong I was, he would notice my influence.  On the other side, could be a good option, because, despite her arrogance, that was clear from everything she did, she could be more susceptible to suggestion.

I used a lot of energy making sure that my mind reached her in a subtle way, not putting a lot of pressure, with care.  His mind was a fortress, but I found the way to slip past her defenses.  Her mind, wasn’t that of a telepath, it didn’t have the same structure you would find in one, so I needed to approach it differently.  I started whispering in her mind, building little thoughts that I let her, letting her think they were her own ideas, and she was falling for it.  For a moment I felt resistance, and I thought she was on to me, but a few new words calmed her down.

Between going into Alukah’s mind and keeping the illusion, I couldn’t focus my attention on what was going on around me, so when I went out of the trance, I realized the situation had escalated faster than I expected, or maybe I had spent more time in her mind that I thought, anyway, both Antrax and Dendro were on their feet, facing Pompeyo, who looked ready to fight.  To the side, Greca and Malkia were still sitting, but the focus on Malkia’s face made me think that her mind was busy, maybe fighting off Pompeyo’s attacks.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Alukah said, “we shouldn’t be wasting our time here, it’s clear they are not going to change their minds and they will keep protecting that woman.  I say that we have better things to do, forbid her coming into our territory, so we won’t have to see her again and let’s get away from here.  This party is not even good.”

For a moment it looked like Pompeyo hadn’t heard her, or wasn’t going to listen to her advice, but then his posture relaxed a little.  ” is right, this is a waste of time, it’s obvious you are not willing to see reason.  It’s a pity things have to end like this, but I don’t want to see her again,” Pompeyo told Antrax, pointing to Malkia, “make sure I don’t have to.  It was a mistake to come here, so we will leave immediately.”

Everyone in the room was tense, frozen in place until the Imperialists left the place.

“Greca, make sure they leave the territory and that they don’t take any detour,” Antrax ordered, and then, turned and walked out of the room, followed closely by Dendro and Malkia.  After a moment I followed as well.  “Who does he think he is to come here and talk to me like that, especially this day?” Antrax was saying.

“I’m sorry that ruined your day,” I told them, “but believe it or not, this went better than I expected.”

“I thought you were here to help, but all you did was stay there while he insulted and threatened your daughter.  Maybe is right about you.”

I used my powers to push Antrax into Lason’s room, where Kimball and a couple of soldiers were protecting the baby.  “Leave us,” I told them, and after looking to for confirmation, they did.  “I know this was a difficult situation for you, and I know that you are mad on behalf of my daughter, because she is important to you, that’s the only reason there won’t be consequences your words, but I recommend you think twice before speaking to me like that again,” Antrax tried to move, even speak, but my powers had him completely under my control.

“I think that’s enough,” Dendro said, “the situation was hard, you can’t blame him for losing his temper.”

“Of course I can, especially since he is blaming Pompeyo and the situation is not that different, Pompeyo is acting like a teenager out of control just because he feels threatened by Malkia.  This is exactly why I insisted she should stay out of Imperial circles, just her presence is enough to make people talk, making Pompeyo lose her reason.  The first few months are always difficult for a new Emperor, especially if his authority and strength are being questioned like this.”

“I guess you ran into trouble,” Kimball said, he was holding little Lason in his arms.

“Things went out of control, and the situation was so heavy that my empathy wasn’t working, luckily I was able to plan a suggestion in Alukah and she was able to convince Pompeyo that it was better to leave.  Still, I have a feeling this is not over yet.

“Alukah is a powerful warrior,” Malkia said, “someone like her can’t be deceived or tricked easily.”

“I didn’t say it was easy, and there is still a chance she could find out what I did, but we would have to wait to see if my action had consequences.  I just hope everything goes well.”

But I knew that at that moment there was no way I could foresee the consequences of my action, but I could see that even if Dendro was happy to have me there, Antrax wasn’t.  I couldn’t stay mad at him because his worry was for Malkia’s safety, and I couldn’t blame him for wanting to protect my daughter.  The young leader of the Assassins wasn’t aware that my daughter was much more dangerous than him, the problem was not the danger she was in from the Imperialists, the danger was what would happen if he died protecting her, for Malkia would be forced to seek her vengeance.

Chapter 56

There was nothing especial about our arrival to Pretoria, as we were traveling in a private plane, we were able to land without attracting much attention.  The problems started when they realized that Kimball was traveling with us.  We have been there just a few minutes when a group of soldiers came to us and explained that Kimball wasn’t welcome there and had to leave immediately.  Something we couldn’t do, not yet.

After talking to the people in the place, Kimball was given the chance to talk to the person in charge, a Colonel that he knew and that was aware of the country rules and what to expect.  After a short talk it seemed they decided they could allow Kimball to stay, but we weren’t allowed to leave alone, a military escort traveled with us, something that under different circumstances would have made me nervous.

“They take their jobs very seriously,” Ethan said, watching the soldiers escorting us from the windows of the car.  My own people was lost among the sea of mzansier soldiers surrounding us.

“This is what the situation requires, the fact that your father is here to challenge the King is something very significant, and that is going to attract a lot of attention.”

“I’m pretty sure that by the time we arrive, Kgosi will be waiting for us, and he won’t be happy about it,” Kimball said, it looked like he was watching the landscape, but I was sure his mind was going over all the different situations he would likely face.

Ethan on the other hand was excited about our situation, I could feel no worry in him, he was confident that his father would win without problem, but I had a feeling that it wouldn’t be that easy.  Not because I doubted Kimball’s ability to defeat Kgosi, but because I knew he would find a way to delay the fight.

“Do I need to remind you that you are no longer welcome in this place?” Kgosi asked.

“This is my country, and I have sacrificed a lot of it, I don’t think it’s fair that I lost my right to be here just because I was helping my family.  But let’s put that aside for the moment and let’s talk about something else.  For more than twenty years you have been the King, you took charge in a very difficult time for our country and managed to keep it going, but I think your time is over.  Because of that, I want to issue a formal challenge for the throne of the Mzansi.”

“You have no right to challenge me,” Kgosi said, “you lost that right when you thought yourself above the laws of the country and interfere in the lives of the imperialists.”

“We both know that even if I was exiled because I saved my daughter’s life, that doesn’t mean I can’t become King.  We can go over the law, but we know what the end result is going to be.”

“If you think you can come in here and intimidate me, you are wrong, I won’t allow you to take my place.  Guards!  Arrest General Kimball.”

“With all due respect, Your Majesty,” one of the soldiers said, “but once a challenge has been issued, you can’t back out.”

“I can decide what I can or can’t do,” Kgosi replied.

“In this case, if you don’t answer the challenge, it would be the same as accepting defeat,” the Colonel that has received us pointed out.

Kgosi started issuing orders for the arrest of everyone not obeying him, but the soldiers remained in their places, they all have accepted the challenge and they were waiting for a fight, a confirmation of who was the strongest and who deserved to be obeyed.  After a while, once he realized no one was listening and that his threats were not going to work, he decided to change tactics and accepted the challenge, but he made it clear that it would be in his way and at the time he deemed right.

Once they agreed that the fight for the throne was going to take place in a couple of days, Kimball was taken to a cell, he was breaking the law by being there after all, and Kgosi wasn’t going to let that go, he needed to establish his power in any way possible.  Kimball didn’t try to fight, he just accepted the situation, he had already considered the possibility of something like that happening and was prepared for that.  After a way too brief goodbye, he was taken to one of the military bases.  Ethan, whose intership was on hold at the moment, and I, were taken to the family house, where Kimball’s parents were already waiting for Ethan.

“Welcome,” Victoria greeted us.  “How are you?  Eager to start your training?” she asked Ethan.

“I’m more excited for the fight between my dad and Kgosi,” Ethan answered, which triggered a series of questions, apparently Kimball had forgotten to mention his plans to his parents.  Ethan’s grandparents had prepared a feast to celebrate his arrival, so we had our little party, but I felt bad knowing that Kimball was alone in his cell while we were eating and celebrating.  I knew that he had been in worse conditions and that he would be fine, but it wasn’t fair.  I knew Kgosi would do anything he could to avoid the inevitable, and even if all he had managed were a couple of days, I knew he would be looking for other ways to delay the fight.  Luckily, Kimball’s parents had a lot of contacts in the capital and with only a few calls they managed to let everyone know about the challenge, which was going to put pressure on Kgosi to move on with the fight.

The next day we tried to visit Kimball, but we weren’t allowed in the military base.  I was starting to get a bad feeling, so I decided to go to the astral planes to do a little reconnaissance.  I found Kimball in a cell, he looked well, just isolated, but even after seeing him, I wasn’t satisfied.  The time crawled by until it was time for the fight between Kgosi and Kimball.

All over the country, news of the fight had spread, and a great number of people had arrived to watch the fight.  Almost everyone in the Elder’s Council, including Zola of course, was present, as well as the President and an impressive number of business men and politicians.  Ethan was very excited when we arrived, but once Kgosi and Kimball walked into the arena, his demeanor turned serious.

“What’s going on?” I asked, I knew something had affected Ethan.

“There’s something wrong with my dad,” he answered, a little distracted, but when I noticed that Kimball also looked distracted, I realized they were having a conversation, something only Ethan could manage.  “He says he didn’t sleep well,” he informed a moment later, “and that they only fed him as little as they could get away with.  I think Kgosi wants to take advantage by weakening my dad.”

“I really doubt that a little lack of sleep and hunger will be much of a difference, if he had managed to hold him longer, maybe.”

“Still, shouldn’t we do something about it?” Ethan asked.

“No, right now anything we do could do more damage than good, unless your father wants us to do something?”

“He says he is ok,” Ethan said, but I could tell he wasn’t convinced.

“Trust him, your father knows his limits, if he believed he wouldn’t be able to fight, he would say something himself.”

I could tell Ethan wasn’t convinced, but he stayed quiet, getting ready to watch the fight.

Zola was in charge of doing the presentation.  It felt different from the time I had challenged Zola, but for starters, Kimball, unlike me, was a liked character and most people were there to support him, besides we were no longer at war.  It was a very different set of circumstances surrounding the fight, but for Kgosi it was just as bad, I could see in his face that he wasn’t ready to lose the fight.

“This fight will have a winner, once one of them is unable to continue,” Zola announced.  “Are you ready?” she asked them, and both nodded.  “In that case, let’s start this fight.”

Both of them were wearing traditional clothing, it was weird to see them like that, it only increased the ritualistic feel of the event.  They had decided, again because of tradition, to have a stick-fight, but I noticed Kimball’s weapons were a little different, a nod to his mixed heritage.  Both of them started with a series of hits and blocks, measuring each other, learning each other’s power and reach.  I almost lost the moment the fight turned serious, the shift was so fast, one moment they were just circling each other, the next a furious exchange of blows was taking place.  The wound of wood against wood had changed its pace, getting more intense, but also adding the distinct sound of wood hitting flesh.

Everyone was screaming and cheering the fighters, and for a moment it looked as if the fight was going in Kgosi’s favor.  I could feel Ethan’s worry, he was starting to doubt his father, it was as if his short time in jail had affected Kimball more than it actually had, but I could see that every one of Kimball’s movements were carefully planned, and if Kgosi couldn’t see that, then he deserved to lose.

The fight didn’t last much longer, but it felt like it had taken an eternity.  The combination of fast paced fighting with moments of calm had only intensified the suspense, until finally, in a move so fast many people wouldn’t be able to notice, Kimball hit Kgosi on the head and sent him to the floor.  After it became clear that Kgosi wasn’t going to get up, the place exploded in cheers.

Before I realized, I was running towards Kimball.  Zola was already announcing him as the winner, and Mzansi’s new King.

“You won!” Ethan screamed.

“Of course he won, there was never a doubt about it,” I said.

“Did you see that in your visions?” Kimball asked.

“I didn’t have to, I know you and I know what you are capable of.  There was never a doubt about the winner of this fight, still, I’m happy it was you, you deserve this.”

Kimball’s parents took their turn to congratulate their son, and little by little more people arrived, all of them excited about the fight.  Everyone had been confident Kimbal could win, but apparently some of them had doubted at some point.  Not me, I never doubted Kimball, I knew him and I knew what he was capable of.

Kgosi left the place while everyone was busy, but sooner or later we would have to talk to him, we couldn’t let him be mad or things would get difficult for us.  But at that moment, the most important thing was Kimball’s victory.

“What does it feel like to be Mzansi’s new King?” I asked.

“I don’t know.  What does it feel like to be Mzansi’s Queen?” he answered.

“A lot better than being Mzansi’s demoness, but I guess that is a tittle people won’t forget any time soon.  I wonder what the common people think of us being the new rulers of the country.”

“I’m sure they will be happy, just like the people in here.  Everyone seems to be happy with the change, and I’m pretty sure they see you as a welcome bonus.  You did an excellent job with the Dominion, I’m sure they hope you will help me do the same for the country.”

“You don’t need my help, you alone have everything needed to do the job.  I know you will be an excellent King, and a good role model for our son.”

“I can’t wait to start,” Ethan said.  “I have spent a lot of time watching mom, now I will get the chance of learning from you.  I will have the best of both worlds.”

“Make sure to pay attention,” I told Ethan, “you need to learn as much as you can, if your time comes, you need to make sure to do a better job than us.

“We will have time for that later,” Kimball said with a smile, “for now, I need to go change, and then we have a celebration to attend.”

“I don’t forget that we will have to go talk to Kgosi about the power exchange.  I’m sure there is a lot of work involved.”

“That’s right, but all that can wait until tomorrow, right now we need to enjoy this victory.”

Even if I had never doubted Kimball’s ability to win, I was glad it was all over.  More changes, but all for the better.  I needed to enjoy the victory and the calmness of the moment, for as long as it lasted, because I knew that eventually something would happen and I would need to go back into battle.

Chapter 55

The first time I had stepped into Aquarium, it had been a new beginning for me, and a symbol of my independence.  Even if the situation could have been taken just as an illusion, as a gift that could be taken back at any moment, the freedom it had given me had helped me survive and overcome during a very difficult moment in my life.

Aquarium had been a place to be reborn, a refuge, a stronghold, and now, it had transformed once again.  The hallways were no longer filled with frightened people or resentful refugees looking for escape, now the place was full of development and creation.  The different groups that lived in Aquarium were there, not because they needed to, but because they wanted to.  Even the Jeong twins that had come hiding from an attacker were happy to be there.

Aquarium had become an excellent place to live, and after having the responsibility for all of the Dominion over my shoulders, being in charge of Aquarium was actually a simple task, and a very relaxing change of pace.  But I still felt like something was missing.  Ethan was about to leave to Mzansi so he could start his studies, but I wasn’t worried about his departure.  I wasn’t worried about the Empire either, despite the tensions between the different groups after the change in power, things were calm for the moment.  The problem was with Kimball, something was bothering him, but I had to wait for him to decide to talk to me.

Lucky for me, I didn’t have to wait long, just a couple of days before Ethan had to leave, while I was in my room trying to decide if I should go with Ethan to Mzansi or let him start this new chapter in his life by his own, Kimball entered the room.

“What are you doing?” he asked me.

“Do you think I should go with Ethan?  I don’t want to seem like an overprotective mother, there is no reason why I should go with him, besides your parents are there ready to welcome him, everything is under control.”

“And still you want to be there and make sure everything is alright.”

“That’s right.  What do you think I should do?”

“Maybe it would be better to ask Ethan if he wants us to go with him.”

“I guess you’re right,” I said, only to realize what he had really said.  “What do you mean if he wants us to go with him?  You are not allowed to enter mainland Mzansi, you can only step into the islands.”

“I know, and I think it’s time to change that.  I have been thinking about what you said the other day, and I decided it’s time for me to become the King.  Kgosi’s time should have ended a long time ago, once I thought about it, I realized that no one else is going to challenge him, they are waiting for me to do it.  Like I said, being a king is not something I had thought about before, but it’s not something that I dislike, and I think I should try it.  So I will go visit Kgosi and challenge him for his position.”

“Are you sure this is what you want to do?  I don’t want you to feel like this is something you should do for me or anyone else.  This is a permanent position, and even if I think you are the right person for the position, I don’t want you to feel like this is something you should do.”

“No, I know what I’m doing and I had already decided this is for the best.  I hope you can support me in this.”

“Of course I will support you,” I said right away, I didn’t want him to doubt me, “you have always been there for me, the least I could do is the same for you.  I’m only worried about Ethan.  Would it affect his studies if you become the King?”

“If his position was a paid position or something with more power, we could be accused of nepotism, but since he will be there as a student, I don’t think it will be any problem, and even if there are, I’m sure we will be able to take care of the situation once it arrives.  Besides, you know how loved Ethan is in Mzansi, I really doubt we will have any trouble, in fact, I’m pretty sure many will be happy to see him taking a role in the country’s politics.”

“If that’s what you want, then I’m happy for you.  In fact, this will make things so much easier for me, I was considering looking to make Aquarium independent from Mzansi, but if you are the one ruling over it, then I see no reason for that.  I trust you completely and I know that everything will be alright as long as it’s you in charge.  Kgosi will not like the situation, I just hope he doesn’t find a way to cause trouble.”

“We won’t have to worry about him for a long time, even if he starts working with the Elders Council, as long as Zola is there, he will be kept in place.”

“Zola won’t be there forever, isn’t she like 200 years old?” my question, that wasn’t entirely a joke, made Kimball burst into laughter, and I had to wait a few minutes for him to calm down and find a way to answer my question.

“Zola is clearly an older woman, but since she looks exactly the same since I remember, for me it’s almost as if she doesn’t age, which I know is silly, time is the same for everyone, and now that you mention it, I think we will celebrate her 100 birthday very soon.  Still, I don’t think she is ready to retire.”

“What are you doing?” asked Ethan from the door. “What were you laughing about?”

“Your mother seems to think Zola is 200 years old, when she is only about 100.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets to be 200, no matter how old she looks, her mind as sharp as any other member in the council, if not sharper, and even if she looks kind of fragile, she is very tough.  We still have Zola for a while.”

“Something Kgosi will absolutely hate when he joins the Elders Council,” I said casually, but as expected, Ethan noticed the comment immediately and realized something was going on.

“Why would Kgosi join the council?” Ethan looked at his father and then I felt his eyes on me, as the same time as his mind brushed mine, looking for information.  “Did you finally decided to challenge him?” he asked his father.  “It’s about time!”

“I guess that means you agree with my decision.”

“Of course I do, you sure took your time.  Everyone agrees you should have taken over the position a long time ago.”

“One thing is what everyone thinks, and another what’s right or what you want.  You can go living your life according to what other people think.”

“I get that,” Ethan said.  “Kgosi is not a bad King, so there is no urgent reason why someone needs to challenge him, but my dad is perfect for the position, and he is one of the few, if not the only one, who can defeat Kgosi and take over.  How do you feel about this?” he asked, focusing on Kimball.  “Do you really want to do this?  Or did the pressure got to be so much you got no other option?”

“As I told your mother, this is something I hadn’t seriously considered before, but it’s not a bad idea.  I think I could do a lot of good with the position.”

“And that means we will spend a lot of time together,” Ethan added.  “That will be great!  But, what about you?” he asked me.  “Will you be here in Aquarium? Or are you going to move to be with my dad?  How is that going to work?”

“Aquarium managed to survive without me while I was leading the Dominion, I don’t think something is going to happen to it if I stay with your father.  Besides, as King he will have more liberty than I did as Prime Minister, I’m pretty sure we could spend the week in Pretoria and the weekends in Aquarium.”

“That is not taking into account the time we will have to spend in the Empire.  You said there are still a lot to do there, and that we would have to visit again in the near future.”

“That’s right, everything is calm for now, but I really doubt it will continue like that much longer.  Every time a new Emperor takes his position problems arise, the situation has been somewhat calm because there had been other issues, but I’m afraid that many are starting to think of Pompeyo as a weak leader, and soon there will be people challenging him.”

“I’m afraid we haven’t helped that much with that image, our meetings have left Pompeyo under a bad light,” Kimball said.

“You are right about that, but don’t worry too much about it, it has always been a possibility that Pompeyo, or the clan, will be attacked  by those who think the transition will be a good time to take over the Empire.  It always happens, sometimes it takes more time than others.  When I became Empress I knew there was a risk of uprisings and I thought I was ready, but there was no direct attack, the Toreador Clan used one of my cousins to try and destroy me, and they almost succeeded.  The punishment they suffered was enough to stop other clans from following their example, at least for a while, but once it became clear I wasn’t going back and that my brother was the new Emperor, other clans tried to attack, luckily my brother knew exactly what to do to stop them.  Pompeyo will have to face the same challenges.  Sooner or later one of the clans under control of the Imperial Clan will start a rebellion or will try to take control of the Empire.  That, or his pride will move him to attack the Rebel Clans as a way to show just how strong he is.”

“I don’t think Pompeyo will be so stupid as to pick a fight with Melpodia and Spike, the last time we met them it became very clear that those two are not the kind of people you will want to face in battle.  Pompeyo should know that nothing good could come from starting a war with them,” Ethan said.

“The problem is that not many people shares that thinking, during the last meeting between them something became very clear, the Rebel Clans are very powerful, and Pompeyo can’t allow people thinking he is afraid of them, it has been established that the Empire is more powerful, has more territory and manpower than them, so if the acts like he is afraid of them, he will lose the respect of his people,” I tried to explain, Empire politics were very different from Dominion politics.  “I know that neither Molpadia nor Spike will start something, but if Pompeyo attacks, I have no doubt they will fight back with all they have.”

“Unless you make an appearance,” Kimball said, “we didn’t have much time to talk, but something was very clear to me, they still respect you and really like you, if they know you are taking sides with the Empire, I’m pretty sure they won’t attack.”

“You know perfectly well that I would never ask them to put their people and territory at risk, not even for the Empire.  If Pompeyo attacks, I won’t ask them not to defend themselves.  I still don’t know what to do, I’m pretty sure that if I go to the Empire right now, Pompeyo won’t like it, not when his authority is under question and there are still many that would like to see me sitting on the throne.  I need to wait a little more before going, and hope he won’t make a mistake in the meanwhile.”

“Have you seen something in the fog?  A new vision?” Ethan asked.

“After the fire several paths were created, but none showed imminent danger, so I didn’t walk for long.  Besides, at this moment I think we have other things to worry about, like the fact that soon I will be a Queen and I have no idea what that will mean for me,” I said, trying to get back to the subject of Kimball’s plans.

“You are right, we have other things to focus on, like our trip to Mzansi.  It won’t be easy, once we arrive and they realize what our plans are, things will get complicated.  Kgosi can’t deny me a fight, but he can try to make it very difficult for me.  We need to be ready for everything.”

“I could feel Kimball’s excitement at the idea of facing Kgosi, which made me feel better, it allowed me to set the guilt of having Kimball following me and denying his dreams to the side.  For a long time I had needed to be on the top, I couldn’t stand the idea of having someone holding power over me, but everything was different in the Dominion, no one had absolute power over others like in the Empire.  In the Dominion very few persons could represent a danger to me, but one of those was Kgosi and his power over Aquarium, but with Kimball taking control, that was a fear I could finally let go.

Chapter 53

Leaving the leadership of the Dominion hadn’t been easy, leaving the Palace and returning to the Towers felt like stepping back, it was even worse because I was there as a guest, and not as the person in charge. The situation was far from good, but I only had to be there one more month, after that Ethan would finish school and we would be able to move. Ethan was still interested in studying under the Mzansi’s leaders, but after his little stunt taking control of their weapons, I was waiting to see if they didn’t change their minds.

I kept being surprised by the way people greeted me everywhere I went, even after I had left my position and became a simple citizen, every time I met with another politician, they treated me with respect. With the use of my powers I could tell that their good wishes and deference were sincere. But that was nothing compared to the way the common people received me everywhere I went. It was quite a chance from the fear and despise they used to show me, but it seemed that my actions during the time I had been in charge had changed the way they felt about me.

I used to go out with Kimball or Ethan, but since Ethan was preparing for graduation and Kimball was working on some of the logistics of the move that was coming our way, I had decided to go alone on a walk, or as alone as I could go with Yoweri walking by my side, mostly invisible, and Tatyana a little behind. I eventually decided to make a stop in one of the cafes in the town plaza, where the owner, once again, received me with pleasure and had served me, refusing my tries to compensate her for her service. Not long after I arrived, the seat in front of me was occupied by the person who used to be my worst enemy, and had become one of my most loyal allies.

“Greetings, Kaiserin, how is civil life treating you?”

“Greetings Jeong. I’m supposed to be Aquarium’s governor, so I’m not exactly a common person.”

“Of course not, you cannot help but be in charge of something. When are you moving back to Aquarium?”

“In a couple of weeks, as soon as Ethan finishes school. He will be with us for a few days before moving to Mzansi to start his training. What brings you here?”

“I have a favor to ask you,” Jeong said, and I could feel something wasn’t right. “The twins were attacked a couple of times, nothing bad, mostly failed rob attempts. As you know, both have been working on classified projects. We still don’t know which project is the target, but we know something they working on has attracted the attacker’s attention. As you know, their research is very important and delicate, we can’t allow it to be known before time. Aquarium is known as a safe haven for researchers, and I was wondering if you could take the twins with you.”

“Both of them as welcome in Aquarium whenever they want to go there, if that’s what they want. Do you need my help finding the people behind the attacks?”

“We are already working on that, I don’t want to bother you. For the moment, my focus is the twin’s safety, and there’s nowhere safer than Aquarium, especially once you start living there.”

“Whatever you need, I will do my best to help. It will be good to have familiar faces there, but I’m not sure how much time we are going to spend in Aquarium, I have some plans in progress that may require some traveling in the following weeks.”

“Still, as I mentioned, Aquarium is known as a safe place, and even if it has been a while since you overthrow the previous rulers, I really doubt someone is going to be fool enough to attack the place of residence of Mzansi’s Demoness.”

“It’s been a while since I have been called that.”

“I hope I didn’t offend you,” Jeong said, as if he had just realized that there was a chance I wouldn’t appreciate the tittle.

“Don’t worry, there is no problem. Words and tittle by themselves cause no harm, it’s the intention behind that could be offensive, and I know it wasn’t your intention to offend me, in any case, I think you said it as a compliment, because of that, I thank you.”

“Sometimes I forget nothing gets past you. You are really a force of nature. You must know I love my children, and after everything we have gone through, there’s no one else I would trust with their safety. They are my most precious treasure, and you are the only one I trust to keep them safe. I must confess that sometimes I felt envious of you, because of the way you connected with them, but then I understood that the love and gratitude they felt for you had nothing to do with the way they felt for me. I no longer feel insecure, I trust them and I trust you.”

“I really appreciate that.”

After a while Jeong left and I continued my walk through Capital City. I arrived at a botanical garden, one of the vestiges of Emily’s reign, one so beautiful and peaceful that had been preserved even after her death. It was a beautiful place and I decided it was a good place to watch the sunset. While I was there, Kimball arrived and sat beside me.

“It seems you want to memorize this place, walking through its streets every day.”

“I don’t have much to do.”

“Will you miss this place?” he asked, and I could tell that my answer was important to him.

“I have been in many territories and lived in many places, and even if every place has good and bad memories attached, I have learned that the most important thing is not the place, but the people you share them with. As long as I have you with me, I’m home.”

Kimball smiled, and putting his arm around my shoulders, pulled me closer so he could kiss me. It was a gesture I always welcomed. I wasn’t lying, having him with me was all I needed, he was home.”

“Soon we will leave this place, and we have to think about our next step.”

“We have always followed my path, but I want the truth, if you had the chance to build your own path, without having to worry about anyone, what would you do? Before meeting me, which were your dreams?”

“My dreams was a quiet life along with my family, spending my time helping others, but you know that dreams was shattered the day they murdered my first family. The truth is that I thought I would die on the battlefield, until I met you, and you know that. Since then my only goal is to be with you and do my best to keep our family safe.”

“Many people think you should be Mzansi’s King, and sometimes I wonder if that is what you want, but haven’t done because of me, or if it’s something others are trying to force you into.”

“I must admit it’s something I have never considered, but at the same time it is an attractive possibility, mostly because it would be the best way of helping people.  After watching you work for so long, I have a good idea of what I could do to improve things in my country.  It’s not that Kgosi or the others are doing a bad job, I respect them, but sometimes I feel like they are still trapped in the inertia of ruling a country under conflict.”

“If that’s what you want, we can do it.  I’m sure we can find a way.”

“Your mission is important, and we can’t be distracted.”

“There is no reason why we couldn’t do both.  As King of Mzansi you would have the right to be in any mission taking place in the Empire, and there wouldn’t be anyone who could question your authority.  It’s true we don’t need to do it, but it won’t harm our cause either.  Many times we have found a way to follow my dreams, there is no reason we can’t find a way to follow yours.”

“All I need is you and my family.  Everything else doesn’t matter.”

Kimball sounded sincere, but I could feel he was interested.  On many occasions he had hinted at the possibility of becoming a King, mostly as a way to pressure Kgosi into doing something he wanted, but maybe, deep down, that was really what he wanted.  And I had to admit, it would be better for me if he was the one in charge of Mzansi’s armies, but that was his decision to make.  For a long time he had been following in my steps, I knew that if needed, I was ready to follow his.

“We need to be ready, something big is coming, whatever it is, I’m hoping it would be after Ethan’s graduation, I don’t want for whatever it is to ruin that experience for him, but I know that if something is going on in the Empire, he will be the first one ready to go.”

“We can’t control everything,” Kimball said, “no matter how much we wish we could.  Whatever it is, we will face it, when the moments arrive, in the meanwhile, we need to keep living, day by day.”

I had been resisting the temptation of going into the fog and see into the future, because I knew I needed the time to rest and wait.  Still, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist for much longer.  The feeling I had wasn’t urgent, but it was telling me something important was coming, and that I needed to be ready.  I only wished that it wouldn’t affect Ethan’s graduation ceremony, I knew it was important for him and I didn’t want the situation to intrude on that and make him feel like he wasn’t my priority.