Chapter 37

We were in the middle of an unknown territory, among enemy forces.  From what Melchizedek had told me, the Light ones weren’t as good and sweet as they pretended to be, and I knew that they could cause trouble for us, even if I wasn’t concerned about them hurting us.  I knew that this was not only and important mission, but a chance to see Melchizedek for the first time in years, and even if I couldn’t pretend that this was only a meeting between old friends, I decided to bring Kimball and Ethan with me.

“You should wait here, but if you think there might be trouble or if you think everything is under control and there’s no problem with getting closer, then you can come here, but for now, just try to be discreet,” I asked them.

“I don’t think you can be discreet in this place, there’s no way you won’t be noticed using that uniform.”

I ignored Kimball, mostly because I knew he was right, and kept walking to a point from where I could watch the couple moving through the temple’s gardens.

“There must be another choice,” Mistral was saying, “you can’t leave.”

“You don’t see what I see, every time they speak, I can see the fakeness twirling around their words.  I’m no longer sure this is a good place, and I’m afraid if I stay you could be also in danger.”

“But you can’t leave, where would you even go?  How would you survive?”

Both of them had been distracted while they walked, so none of them had realized they were not alone any longer, nor that they were being followed, but eventually they got too close to me not to notice me.  Charles’ son moved in front of Mistral, trying to protect her.  “Who are you?” he asked, as he started to move back, trying to put more distance between us.

“I don’t recommend moving back, there’s more danger behind you than in front,” after hearing my words, and recognizing the truth in them, they both looked over their shoulders and finally noticed the man that had been following them

“What is going on here?” Mistral asked, to no one in particular, I could see her fear and confusion, but her partner was doing his best to keep her protected from all the threats around them.

“The High Priests asked me to follow you, they are worried about your faithfulness and obedience, and the fact that you are consorting with a Dark one is a sign that they were right to doubt you.”

“Dark one?” Mistral asked, a note of hysterics coming to her voice as she looked at me with distrust and confusion, maybe even a hint of recognition.

“Now it won’t matter who your father, or your protector is, this is enough to send you to the Shadows, maybe even to offer you to the Goddess as a sacrifice.”

“And you call my people barbarians,” I said, “at least we don’t make elaborated lies to justify our actions.  We all know you are only looking for an excuse to do what you already were going to do.”

“Camil?” Mistral was looking at her companion asking for an explanation.

“Everything she says is true, but when he talks his words are full of half truths or outright lies.”

“And how do you know that?” the Light one asked, “Are you being helped by demons?”

I couldn’t help but laugh at his words, the situation was ridiculous, the guy knew the truth about powers and their nature, and still he was buying into his own lies.  “Your hypocrisy is outstanding,” I finally told him.

“My powers come from the Goddess,” he said.

“And why are you so sure his don’t come from the same place?  You know what? I don’t care about your answer, I just want to fix this.  I will give you the chance to leave this place, so you can see I’m not so bad, but if you stay here, I won’t guarantee your safety.”

“Sinners and infidels, I won’t let you get away with this,” from somewhere between his clothes he managed to get a knife out and moved to Camil and Mistral, but using my powers I threw him in the opposite direction, making him hit a column with enough force to knock him out.

“You killed him!” Camil said.

“No, I didn’t, he is still alive, and I think you should remember that if he had gotten away with it, he would have killed you.”

“Who are you?  What do you want?” Mistral asked.

“I thank you for your help,” Camil said, more diplomatically, “but I think it’s time for you to leave here, you are not welcome.”

“I’m afraid I can’t go, not unless you come with me.  You are the main reason I came here today.”

“I won’t let you take him,” Mistral said, turning brave as soon as someone she cared about was threatened.

A feeling of peace and calmness fell like a blanket over us, and I immediately knew that Melchizedek had decided to join us.  After taking a moment to search the surrounding area I realized that he was getting closer, but he wasn’t coming from the same place as Camil and Malkia, he was coming from the other side, from behind me.  I turned around just in time to see him getting out of the tree line, and noticed he wasn’t alone, Ethan was with him, smiling, but also looking a little confused.  Without thinking about it, I started moving towards them, only to have Mistral appearing between us, holding the knife the other guy had used against her, blanding it inexpertly.

“Not another step,” she warned me, but I ignored her, using my powers to take the knife from her and throw it away, then to hold her still while I moved passed her and into Melchizedek’s open arms.

“It’s been so long since I saw you!” I greeted him while I lost myself in his embrace, feeling the safeness and peacefulness that I had missed so much.

“It’s good to see you again, darling,” Melchizedek told me.

I let go of my hold over Mistral, allowing her to turn and see what was going on.  I couldn’t see her, but still I could tell she was confused and even a little bit mad, even with Melchizedek’s influence.

“Sir?” Camil asked, moving closer to where we were.

“Are you ok?” Melchizedek asked him.

“Confused, do you know this… Dark one?  She is a Dark one, isn’t she?”

“Yes dad, what’s going on?”

“I think that deep down, you know what’s going on, my dear.”

“She is getting her powers back, that means her memories must be coming back too,” I agreed with Melchizedek, she had to know more, even if she was refusing to believe it.  “I see you already met my son Ethan,” I said, changing the topic and trying to figure out why they had arrived together.

“I found him on my way here, and he agreed to come with me.”

“You knew who he was,” I was sure, Melchizedek’s powers were far superior from mine, and I was sure he knew all there was to be known about Ethan already.

“He even called me by name,” Ethan confirmed, “but I’m sure I would have known who he was, just by looking at him after all you told me about him.  What I don’t get is why you call him the most powerful empath there is, he has strength, but he lacks control.

“Maybe he doesn’t have the same kind of control as you in how he affects those around him, but he has a lot of control over his own feelings.  Just imagine the kind of damage someone like him could do by being angry or scared and projecting those feelings, imagine the chaos.  You know I’m always going after you to control your emotions because of the kind of damage you could do by projecting all those feelings without control.”

“You may be right,” he accepted.

“Could someone explain to me what’s going on?” Mistral asked, some traces of frustration going over her father’s influence.

“I would also like to know who she is and what’s she doing here.”

“This is Kaiserin, former Empress of the Dark Empire,” Melchizedek introduced me, “and she is here to take you with her.”

“What? No!” Mistral said, moving in front of Camil as if she could protect him.

“You know who he is,” Melchizedek nodded, but I didn’t need the confirmation, I expected him to already know everything about the young man he had taken under his protection.

“I know, and I have done my best to prepare him for his future.  And you arrived just in time, for the High Priests are already suspicious of his powers, and they don’t trust their ability to turn him to their side, they know he is a good person, and one that is not fooled by their lies.”

“He has become a risk, they no longer want to have him around in case he could turn against them or betray their secrets,” I said, getting a better understanding of the situation.

“There’s nothing they fear more than truth, since all their teachings are based on lies and secrets.”

“Daddy, I don’t get what’s going on.  Please, explain to me what this is, how do you know her?”

“Could we have this conversation in another place?” Kimball’s voice reached us.  “A group of people is heading this way.  It would be better to move this conversation to a place where there isn’t a risk of people walking into a Dark one.”

“Of course, that’s a good idea, let’s more to a more secluded place where we can talk without problems,” Melchizedek agreed.  “I promise to explain everything, even if I think you already know the answers, you just have to accept them.”

We walked in silence for a while, with Kimball in the front, guiding us to the place we had already prepared just for this reason, and where Sofia would be waiting for us.  Despite the lack of words, there was plenty of communication going on around us, Camil and Mistral giving each other looks and gestures meant to reassure each other, while Melchizedek’s smile was all I needed to know how glad he was about our meeting.  Kimball also was looking at me, letting me know that everything was alright, while Ethan just looked around, absorbing as much information as he could.  We finally arrived to our destination, an improvised camp with a group of warriors watching us just from out of sight, while Sofia waited in the center.  When we moved closer, I noticed that Sofia was in trance, and I actually felt the vision that had her trapped calling to me.

“I think this is the first time that the three most powerful Seers in the world had been in the same place,” Melchizedek pointed out, “usually this kind of power is placed in different parts of the world.”

“With Sofia and me in the same place, the balance must have been seriously affected a long time ago,” I pointed out.

“Not that much, the Dark Empire has a lot of seers, that helps to keep the equilibrium.”

“Is that how you know each other?  You meet in the Fog of the Future?” Camil asked.

“Not really, in fact, it was Melch who taught me how to walk the fog, he was my teacher.”

“Can we start from the beginning?  I really need to understand what’s going on here,” Mistral asked.

“Of course, that’s only fair.  But I’m pretty sure that you at least have an idea of who I am, deep down.  I saw how you appeared in front of me, that means you are using your powers again, that wouldn’t be possible if you didn’t have at least part of your memories back.”

“How do you know so much?  Who are you?  Tell me, no more evasion, or mores questions.”

“You know that, I’m your godmother.”

Mistral stayed quiet and silent, she didn’t deny my words like I expected her to do.  I could see her going over my words and her memories, trying to find something to confirm or deny my words.

“Sometimes I remember a woman’s voice, but when I try to see her face something else distracts me and I can’t focus on her anymore.  There are some memories, some things and feelings that I can’t get a hold on, like the feeling of getting lost in time, the feeling of moving from one place to another in the blink of an eye.  Sometimes I even see myself in another place with different people.”

“Those are suppressed memories, from a past you no longer remember,” I tried to explain.

“Why can’t I remember?”

“Because a long time ago you asked me to block your powers, and the only way I knew how to do it, was by hiding some of your memories.”

“Are you going to do that again?”

“The first time I did it because you asked me to, and I may do it again if it’s something you really want, but the first time it was because you were too young and impulsive and we were afraid you wouldn’t be able to hide your powers from other people.  But now you are all grown up, you are capable of hiding your powers, and of knowing when it’s ok to use them.  What happened before was your reaction to what you perceived as a threat, but once you have the right tools, you will be able to control that kind of thing from happening if you don’t want it to.”

“I want my memories back,” Mistral asked, “I want to understand what’s going on and see for myself what’s going on, right now I feel like everyone knows something I don’t, I feel I don’t see the whole picture and I hate that.”

“If you are sure about it, then I can help.”

“Wait a minute,” Camil asked, “are you sure you can trust her?  She is a Dark one.”

“You can answer that question better than I can.  What do you see?  Is she lying or telling the truth?”

“She seems to be telling the truth, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to trust her, besides, she wants to take me with her, and she hadn’t explained why.”

“What do you know about your origins?  Your past?” I asked him.

“There are a lot of rumors and guesses about my past, and something tells me you know more about it than me.”

“There is so much to talk about that I don’t know where to start,” I said.

“What about the beginning?”

“I will, but could you give me a few minutes first?  I would like to work a little on Mistral, try and free some of her memories about the Shadowlands, that way she will understand better what we have to say.”

No one objected to my suggestion, so while Camil and Melchizedek had a private conversation, and Kimball and Ethan moved away, either to give us privacy or make sure we were safe, Mistral and I took some of the free chairs near Sofia.

“What do I have to do?” Mistral asked, looking a little nervous.

“Nothing special, you just need to relax and try not to fight this.  The only reason this worked so well the first time was because you trusted me, and didn’t put any resistance to my influence, and I need that right now.”

“You must be telling the truth, because I feel like I can trust you, sure, my first reaction wasn’t a good one, and all my teachings tell me to run the opposite direction from you, but deep down I feel like I could trust you.  If not in you, at least in my father, he had always guided me in the right direction, and I trust him.”

Feeling a lot better after her words, I went into her mind.  What I had done with her was different from what my father had done to me, he had hidden my memories behind closed doors and inside protected chests, I had gone for a less painful option.  Mistral’s landscape was also different, she wasn’t a telepath, and because of that her mental landscape was very basic, without visual representations, still, a lot of time had gone by since the last time I had been in there, and what I found was very different, I was hard to find my way to where I had hidden her memories.  Instead of locking them up like my father had done, I had put them behind other memories, masking them and distracting her from looking into them with the brighter, happier memories before them.  The attractiveness of those memories had lost its power with time, and I could see some of the memories shining from behind them, trying to get out.  Recovering those memories was extremely easy, all I had to do was move them from behind and leaving them in a place where they could be easily accessed.  She had already been trying to reach them, and some had escaped in their own, making the whole process extremely easy.  The fact that I didn’t find any resistance was a sign that she did trust me.

Hiding her memories and locking her powers had been a long process, but freeing them had taken just a few minutes.  I finished my task and got out of her mind.  She opened her eyes and stared at me for a moment, I could see her wince in pain and realized that despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to shield her from all the pain, having that much memories dumped on her, had still affected her.  I knew there wasn’t much I could do, so I just waited, and just a moment after her face lighted up in recognition and she threw herself into my arms.

“Nina!  I can’t believe I forgot who you were.  Well, I do, I asked you for this, after all, but it’s incredible someone can forget someone like you.  There are so many things I have to ask, things I need to clarify.  I feel like a big part of me had been hidden, and I feel complete for the first time in forever.”

“That’s exactly what happened, those secrets were necessary, but left you with only half a picture,” Melchizedek said.  “But it’s good to see you have them back and that we can talk freely now.”

I saw the same painful wince in Mistral, and then she looked solemnly at her father.  “You weren’t accepted as a Priest because of your powers, you are not a Blessed one that was guided to them, you are part of that family, you were destined to be a High Priest,” she said.

“That’s right, they are also your family, our family, but their hypocrisy made them reject us and put us to the side.”

“I see everything so differently now, is like the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, but I don’t see the image I’m putting together,” Mistral said, and I could see she was sad because of that.  “What I still don’t get is why you are here and why are you interested in a Light one,” Mistral said.  “Why do you want to take him away?”

“I’m afraid I’m the reason for that,” Sofia said, finally out of her trance.  “Kaiserin is only helping me getting reunited to my grandson.”

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Chapter 35

I woke up scared, and started to panic until I realized that I wasn’t trapped, that it was only Kimball who was holding me.

“Calm down, everything is ok, easy there…” he was talking softly to me, comforting me.  “Can you tell me what happened?” he eventually asked, once he realized that I was back under control.

“Malkia is in trouble,” I said, and as soon as I spoke, Kimball’s demeanor completely changed, and he was ready to act.  “Don’t worry, she has help, she isn’t in danger.  Is just that my old problems are once again hurting my daughter.  It’s hard enough to face your own demons, it isn’t fair that she has to fight mine too.”

“That’s not your fault, whatever happened, you are doing your best to keep her safe, and that’s all you can do.  Do you want to tell me what you saw?”

“The Empire is having trouble, new battles are starting and the assassins, as the Imperial Clan’s allies are there helping.  Malkia was eager to prove herself in battle and despite Dendro’s warnings she went to battle, but she didn’t realize she was going to be facing enemies and allies.  Once of my old tormentors found her and decided to take her, just because she looked like me.  She had an unlikely ally stepping in and helping, things could have gone a lot worse if it wasn’t for him.”

“What you saw, it’s something that is going to happen?”

“It was something that was happening, it was too real, it felt written in stone.  I have to go talk to her, I’m sure that once she finishes dealing with the situation, she will have questions for me.”

“Are you strong enough to make that kind of astral journey?”

“I am, you don’t have to worry, I’ll be fine.  I just hope that she will be looking for me, and I don’t want to get too close to her camp, she is in Imperial territory and they always have astral sentries posted around.”

“Whatever you have to do, just be careful,” Kimball asked.

I knew that the vision wasn’t about the future or the past, it had to be something that was happening, so it was too late to change it, all I could do was being there and answer any questions I could.

The travel through the astral planes was easy, I moved to the superior planes and had no trouble moving, and as soon as I got close, I felt my daughter waiting for me.

I thought you may have some questions for me,‘ I told her as soon as I reached her.

That’s correct.  I guess you already know what happened,‘ she said, her demeanor serious.

I saw what happened through my visions.

You forgot to mention a few things the last time we spoke,‘ she complained.

I told you that I couldn’t tell you the whole story, I only told you what you needed to know.  I get if you don’t understand why I can’t tell you more, but this is one of those occasions where knowing could be more dangerous than staying in the dark.

Don’t you trust me?

What do you want to know?‘ I asked, knowing that it was better to move the conversation forward instead of going in a direction that could provoke a fight.

The woman that… attacked me,‘ she started, having trouble finding a word that described what had happened.

Her name is Joshes.

She said that I looked like her broken toy, but that her toy couldn’t have children, so she couldn’t be my mother.  The Captain also mentioned that I looked like his father’s lover, but that she was barren…

When I was under Joshes’ command, and at the beginning of my… relationship, with Vasuman, that was true, but eventually I was healed and managed to get pregnant, not long before Vasuman’s death.

Then that Captain…

He is your half-brother, Vasuman’s son with one of the women he used to have before he found me.‘  I could feel her confusion, everything she had learned from the warriors from Sector 32 was different from what she knew about me.  ‘I had already talked to you about this the last time we saw each other, like you had already guessed, I wasn’t an Assassin, but an Imperialist, and I told you that I was in a bad situation during my early years, and that you were the daughter of one of my superiors.  I also told you about the enemies I left in my old clan, and why I had left you in the Fortress, and then under Dendro’s protection.  I know that as Antrax’s partner, you have the right to be by his side during the Clan’s meetings, but you need to understand that my old enemies wouldn’t hesitate to make you pay for the problems they had with me.

I have a half-brother,‘ Malkia said, for some reason that had been what had caught her attention.

More than one,‘ I told her sincerely.  ‘Before meeting me, your father had a lot of women, most of them recognized his power and decided to have children with him.  I don’t know how many of them survive to this day, but the fact is that you have more brothers and sisters.

I should go to the Empire and try to meet them.

Those who were raised by their mothers may be poisoned against you.  It was never my choice to be with your father, but the rest of the women always hated the fact that he stopped paying them attention once he got me.  The fact is that you need to be careful, not all of them will be happy with your existence, some of them could see you as a rival, someone to get rid of.

But we share the same blood,‘ she said, and I could feel her desire to connect with her family.

Most of my problems in the Empire were caused by my half-brother.  Not everyone is like Greca, my blood and my powers created a link between you that makes you stronger when you are together, that’s an advantage in your relationship.  But is not the same in other cases.  If you trust the Captain, you can share with him who you really are.  I had a chance to meet him, since he got out of the Academy before his father died and had a chance to meet us, even if Vasuman didn’t really recognize him, he didn’t seem to be angry at me for that.  Still, is better if people don’t know about you at all.

I can’t spend the rest of my life in hiding.

You can face the world once you are sure you can take it on.  You need to be able to face them all, to be the strongest of them all, that’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.  I’m sorry I left such a burden for you, but there’s nothing we can do about it, you just have to make sure to stay away from the Imperial territory unless you are sure no one can take you down.

Why do they hate you so much?  Why do they love you so much?  Some of them, like Dendro, would do anything for you, but others like Ivy don’t hesitate to try and destroy me just because they feel like they are fighting you.

When you are ready, once you are strong enough, you will be able to go to the Palace and face the Royal Families, then you will understand.  If I told you everything right now, you would get ideas that would put you at risk.

You can’t know that,‘ she said.

I can, I have seen your futures and I’m doing my best to keep you on the best path available.  Is there anything else I can do for you?

You said you would come back one day, when?

I still have things to do where I’m at, reasons to stay away, at least for a couple more years.

Then I guess we don’t have anything else to talk about.

Please, don’t be mad, you need to understand this is not easy for me either, but I’m doing what I think it’s best for both of us.  Someday you will understand it all, for the moment all you can do, what I’m asking you to do, is to train to be stronger, to become an invincible force.  That is very important.  There will be always battles to be fought, and you need to be prepared for them.

I trust you, even if I don’t get you.  When I needed you, when I was trapped in the inferior planes you were there, helping me.  I know that it’s likely I wouldn’t have survived the experience without your help.  It’s just that these secrets make me think that it’s you who don’t trust me.

I’m sorry you feel that way, and I hope you know how proud I am of everything you have accomplished, but the danger waiting for you in the Empire is beyond what you can imagine.  I had to face that danger before I was ready, and that cost me a lot of pain and blood.  I’m just trying to make your journey easier than mine.  After everything that happened today with Joshes, and what happened a few years back with Ivy, I hope you understand why I’m so worried.

It’s not easy, but I will try to be more patient and not put myself at risk again.

‘That’s all I ask.’  After talking about some superficial stuff, I finally left her to get back to my own body.

I thought Kimball would have gone back to sleep after I left to the astral planes, but when I got back I found him awake, waiting for me.  I knew how hard it was for him to stay behind, not being able to do anything, without a chance to act.

“How did it go?” he asked as soon as I opened my eyes.

“She is fine, a little mad she doesn’t know the whole story.  I think that what she found affected the image she had of me and she still doesn’t get what is going on.  She wants to know everything, and I can’t give her the details.”

“Why not telling her the truth?  That you were the Empress for a short time and that your position made you a lot of enemies?”

“I know what is going to happen if she learns everything.  She is still young and doesn’t get all the dangers of that position.  If I tell her who I was and who her family is, she will get curious.  As soon as she gets in front of my brother, he will receive her with open arms, painting a target on her back, everyone who desires to take the throne will go after her, because they will realize she is a threat.”

“But she is the partner of the next leader of the Assassins, I don’t think she will leave him for the chance of being part of the Imperial Clan.”

“That is something they don’t get and don’t care about.  In my youth it never crossed my mind to become the Empress, that didn’t stop Caracalla from being afraid of me and trying to get rid of me.  It’s too big of a risk, and one Malkia won’t understand until it’s too late.  She is strong, but not strong enough to face the whole Clan.”

Kimball didn’t insist, but I knew he didn’t agree with me.  I knew that I couldn’t keep Malkia on the fringe forever, sooner or later she would be forced to take her rightful position by Antrax’s side, and she would have to go to the heart of the Empire, I just wanted to give her as much time as possible to get stronger.  Maybe I was affecting her future by keeping her away from her roots, but I didn’t want her to suffer like I had.  I knew that it was the sum of my experiences that had made me who I was, without Agmong’s torture and Caracalla’s assassins I wouldn’t have have grown so strong, at least not as fast.  I wanted to believe that I would have been able to reach my potential in other forms, I needed to believe that for my children’s sake, since I wanted them to reach their own potentials without having to suffer like I had.

Sometimes I felt like I had condemned them just by giving them my blood.  Sharing my face had given Malkia shelter and the opportunity to make a life with the Assassins, but it had also put her life at risk every day.  Like Ethan’s life that had been in danger many times because of me.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t change that, all I could do was to do my best to keep them safe.

With all that had happened, I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I got out of bed and went to Ethan’s room, from the doorway I watched him for a while, he was calm, but he was going to wake up soon to start his day, so I left him alone.  I kept walking and went to our living room, stopping in front of the windows, watching the city, with the Black Tower easy to spot in the distance.  I could feel Kimball nearby, but he knew me enough to give me a little time.  Eventually Kimball came to me, with a cup of coffee as an offering.

“How are you?” he asked.

“I feel like a change is approaching.  Sooner or later things are going to change and we need to be ready.  My time in the Dominion is approaching its end, even if I get elected as Prime Minister for another term, that only buys me three more years, then I will have to find another path.”

“You want to go back to the Empire,” Kimball said, he wasn’t asking, he knew what I was thinking.

“I think I will need to, soon.”

“When the time arrives, I will be by your side.”

“I know,” I answered sincerely, feeling stronger by knowing, that as always, I had his support.

Chapter 25

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

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

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

“I’ll stay with her,” Yoweri offered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Identify yourself,” one of them ordered.

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

“Kaiserin?” Ratri asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“That means a lot to me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A bodyguard?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 24

“Are you sure about this?” Kimball asked, yet again.  “For years you have avoided the Empire, and now you want to go there, alone.”

“I need to visit Dendro.  But like I said, I won’t go to his clan, I just need to be close so I can reach him telepathically.”

“You said that Malkia was safe with him, why do you need to go talk to him?  Is there something you are not saying?”

“Everything is fine, you don’t have to worry about her.  Like I said, Dendro will keep her safe.  I just want to talk to him and thank him for what he did.  I think it’s only fair after he rescued my daughter from her enemies.  I just need to thank him.  He has always been there for me, it’s the least I can do.”

“You don’t owe him anything, you know that.”

“You are making this a bigger deal than it really is.  You have to go to the Empire, so do I.  I just thought that it would be better to go together, that’s all.”

Kimball had been angry that I hadn’t told him about Malkia right after I found out, but it was something in the past, I just didn’t think he needed to know, my daughter was safe thanks to Dendro and there was nothing we could do for her anyway.  But I should have realized that his annual trip to the Fortress wasn’t just because of Greca, he liked to visit Malkia as well, I knew they had even spoken a few times.  Kimball loved Greca and Malkia equally, even if only one of them had his blood, he felt responsible for both of them.

The hard part of preparing for our trip was convincing Faakhir that I needed some time off, but I managed to get the time without raising too much suspicion from Faakhir and the others.  Truth was, I didn’t want to go back to the Empire, it was something that I had avoided as much as I could, despite everything I was still afraid that someone would discover my presence there.  My last visit had been difficult, and I didn’t want a repeat.

But even with my fears and apprehensions I managed to go with Kimball to the Empire.  First, we took the jet to to the island, and from there we took a smaller plane to the Empire, one that would go unnoticed easily.  After a night camping together, we took our own paths, Kimball going to the Fortress, me moving closer to the Assassins’s territory.  It would be impossible to go all the way to their clan, but I had to move as close as I could without to be able to reach Dendro’s mind.  I was going to use a trick my brother was fond of, but it wasn’t something I was familiar with, and I needed a lot of focus to manage the same trick.  First of all, I needed to find a safe place where I could be safe while I was in a trance, I needed a fortified place in an area that was far enough to be outside their territory, but close enough to be able to reach Dendro.

It took me most of the day to arrive to my destination and then to build my refuge.  I used my powers to hide and protect the place, making it as strong as a small fortress, and hiding it in a way that no one could find it unless they knew exactly what they were looking for.  It took a lot of time and energy, but I needed to be sure that I would be safe before I could go and talk to Dendro.  I needed to be strong, because I wasn’t sure how he would receive me once I reached for him.

Finding and reaching his mind was even harder than I thought, but by midnight I had managed to do it.  Because Dendro wasn’t a telepath, his mind didn’t have the same structure than telepaths had, he didn’t have a mental landscape I could use, so I had to enter his dreams and modified them until I found a way to enter them.

I found myself in the middle of a room that looked like a lab, with tables full of gadgets, instruments and bottles that I had no idea what they were for.  Dendro was seated in front of one of the tables, looking at a book, but as soon as he noticed me standing there, he focused his attention on me.

‘This is nothing like the dreams I usually have with you, and this is not the place I usually dream when I’m with you.’

‘You know what’s going on, don’t you?’

‘Your brother has invaded my dreams a few times, so I’m hoping that you are invading my dreams and that it is really you who’s here with me.’

‘Let me tell you how sorry I am for the way I left.  I know that some of you felt like I was betraying you by leaving, and since I never explained what I did what I did, I don’t blame you for thinking the worst, but I spoke with my brother, and I hope he told you that I took this decision because I had no other choice.  And I want to thank you for what you did for me.  Despite the distance I have been trying to keep an eye on Malkia, and I felt terrible for not being there for you, and very grateful because you were.  You did for my daughter what I couldn’t do.’

‘I owe you a lot, it was the least I could do.  Besides, your daughter is a great warrior, it’s an honor to have her with me and help her become the best warrior she can be.’

‘My daughter is very important to me, and it hurts me that I can’t be there for her.  But knowing you are taking care of her I feel so much better.  Despite what my action could say, I really respect you and I consider you a true ally.  It was my fears and insecurities that drove me away without letting you know my plans, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate you.’

‘I don’t know what drove you away, but you have to know you can trust me.  I would like you to come back to us, I’m sure that despite the time you have been away, your clan will accept you back.  Your brother still misses you, and your allies want you back.  You could even take your daughter and be with her if that’s what you want.  Many people will be very happy to know you have an heiress.’

‘When my mother decided to keep me a secret, I felt that I wasn’t good enough for her to recognize as her daughter, but later I understood that she was doing that to protect me, she needed time to make sure I would be safe and no one would attempt to kill me.  My daughter will be a great warrior, but right now she is still vulnerable and being related to me puts her in danger.  Please, keep her hidden until she grows strong enough to face the dangers of being my daughter on her own.  Keep her away from my clan, at least for now.’

‘If that’s what you want, that’s what I will do.  I would never do anything to put her in danger, you can be sure that I will do my best to keep her safe.  Is there something I could say to convince you to come back?’

‘I’m sorry.  I would like to offer a good explanation for my actions, but I can’t.  From the moment I left my clan all my decisions have taken into consideration the best path for me at the moment.  I left my clan to protect my daughter, I stayed away to protect the clan and the Empire from a great danger, I’m still away to protect my own future.  I can’t tell you where I am or what I’m doing, but I can tell you that I’m needed there.  My brother is a great Emperor, this place is safe with him.’

‘When I will see you again?  Are you never coming back?’

‘I may visit you again, I would like to see my daughter in person, not just the astral planes.  And I would like to come back some day, when there is no more danger for me here, but I can’t right now.  I hope you understand and forgive me for this.’

‘I would like to have you here again.  I wish you could trust us enough to come back.  But if there’s nothing I could say or do to convince you to come back, then I will just make sure your daughter is safe with me.  As long as she is part of my clan, she is under my protection.’

‘Thank you.  I’m sure she will be ok here.’

I left Dendro’s mind, it had been good talking to him.  Despite only being able to see each other a few times through the years, we have developed a sincere friendship.  Even before helping him escape the New World Clan, his friendship with my brother had been extended to me.  When I lost my brother and he lost his sister, we saw comfort in each other.  Sometimes I suspected, by the way he looked at me, that there was more from Dendro’s side, but I like to pretend that his attention was because he felt like he owed me something and he needed to pay his debt.

I still had some time after talking to Dendro, so I decided to go into the astral planes and see if I could find Malkia.  I entered the astral planes and walked the first superior plane, trying to move closer to the Assassins’ territory.  Like all the big clans, they had astral sentries around their perimeter in the material plane and the first lower and superior planes.  I felt a presence similar to mine patrolling the planes, and I was pleasantly surprised to know Malkia had been promoted.  It was an important position, especially in a clan that wasn’t known for their psychic strength.  To have the strength and ability to walk the astral planes was something not everyone had.

I haven’t explained my daughter how to recognize essences in the astral planes, but someone had, for she detected me and came to me.

‘I knew it was you,’ she told me.  ‘Were you looking for me?’

‘Yes.  I needed to see how you were doing and I wanted to meet you, I just wasn’t expecting you to be working.  I guess I should congratulate you, you managed to obtain a great position.’

‘That’s what they told me.  They also said that being able to travel the astral planes was in my blood.  I told my superiors what had happened, they said you are my mother.  Is that true?’  She knew I couldn’t lie to a direct question like that.

‘It is.’

‘Why didn’t you say that from the beginning?’  In a place where it was impossible to hide, I could feel her hurt and confusion.  She felt betrayed because I had lied to her, if only by omission.

‘I told you in a way, I’m sorry I wasn’t clear.  Truth is, I wasn’t sure how you would take my words, most of the children taken to the Fortress are never claimed by their families and I didn’t know what you have heard about me now that you are in Dendro’s clan.  I didn’t want to tell you who I am just for you to reject my help.’

‘You’re right, you did try to tell me, but I refused to believe it could be possible.  I never allowed myself to think of a family, besides my sister.  And I have heard a lot about you since I arrived here, but not enough.  Everything they told me made me believe you were dead, because you would still be here otherwise, right?’

‘I left my clan a long time ago, for reasons I can’t explain.  But I have always been loyal to it, believe that, no matter what you hear.  I think Dendro understands, he knows I had a good reason to leave.’

‘Why did you leave?’

‘I’m afraid that I can’t tell you, not now anyway.  Some day you will know.’  I knew she wasn’t satisfied with my answer, no one was, but there were things I couldn’t say, especially not to her.  ‘I can’t be here for long, but I wanted to see if you had any questions about the astral planes, although I suppose that now you are an astral sentry, you are being taught what you need to know.’

‘Yes, they are teaching me to open my eyes and see beyond what’s in front of me.  Will I see you again?’

‘I will be with you when you need me, but for the moment you are in good hands.’

My visit had been far too short, but I knew the longer I stayed there, the more I would want to be closer to her.  I knew I could go to Dendro and ask him to welcome me into his clan, that I could be with my daughter, but I had other responsibilities waiting for me.  Besides, if my clan found out that I was with Dendro, he would get into trouble.  I needed to go back to my life and trust Malkia to be alright.

Chapter 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who did you rescue?”  Ethan asked.

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

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

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

Chapter 10

I woke up to the noise of the door opening, I sat down as far from the door as I could and prepared for whatever was going to happen next.  Mbali climbed up the vehicle and sat next to me, Kimball took the seat in front of me.  More people came in until all the seats were taken, it was a little more than half their group in the van with me.

I closed my eyes and hugged Malkia, I was afraid, more for her than me, she was so small, so fragile, she needed my protection.  The vehicle started moving and the people around me started talking, most of them were talking in that weird language, but I still could hear a few words in my own now and then.  The voices and the movement lulled me into a restless sleep.

I woke up with a start to a weak cry, I noticed that it was Malkia and quickly checked on her, but it was only hunger that had prompted her crying, and that was something I could easily solve.  Once my fear was under control I attended to her needs, no one was paying us attention so I didn’t hesitate to lift my clothes to nurse her.  She was restless, almost as much as I was.  I needed to calm her down, and I remembered how Soturi used to sing to Mistral every night.  I didn’t remember the words, but I started to hum the melody.  She calmed down and looked at me, her eyes were staring at me and I felt a connection to her that was stronger than anything I had felt before, it was as if nothing else existed, it was just the two of us, my baby, a part of me, my legacy to the world.  After a while, her little eyes started to close, she fought for a while, but finally her eyes closed and her body relaxed, her little mouth was still trying to suck even though she was already asleep.

It wasn’t until she was completely asleep that I noticed the lack of noise of conversation, I looked up and saw everyone looking at me.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare at you,” one of them said, he was the older one, “it’s just that I didn’t expect an Imperialist to be such a gentle mother, nor did I expect one of you to know lullabies.”

“I don’t think it’s common, if I was in the Empire I would have already given my daughter to the nursery.  What I know about babies is because of the Amazons, and the lullaby I learned from the people from the Shadows, I used to see Soturi sing to her daughter every night while I was there.  I don’t remember the words, just the melody.”

“You two look so beautiful together,” Mbali said.  “You are not what I was expecting, I thought the Empress was going to be cold and serious, but I can see how much you love your child.”

I wasn’t sure if it was just an observation or a threat, but I was afraid for Malkia and how they could use her to get to me.  I wasn’t afraid of what could happen to me, I knew how much I could endure and how much I could survive, but she was so small and vulnerable, she couldn’t protect herself so I had to protect her.  I felt like a failure because I knew that I wasn’t strong enough to stop them if they tried to harm us.

“Can I hold her for a moment?” An older woman asked.  She was the oldest in the group and something about her reminded me of Cerridwen, she looked wise, she knew things.  “Don’t worry, I have a lot of experience with babies, your child will be safe with me.”  I didn’t want Malkia to be away from me, in my arms at least I had the illusion that I was keeping her safe, but I couldn’t anger them.  I knew she could take her no matter what, so I decided to let her hold my baby for a moment, I hold on to the illusion of choice and control.

Several of the warriors got closer to the woman holding my baby, they were mesmerized by the innocence and calmness of my baby.  She slept with no worries, unaware of the cruelties and the dangers of the world.  There were only a pair of eyes that were not captivated by Malkia, Kimball’s eyes were on me.  I gathered my defenses and looked back at him, trying to appear unaffected by his stare that looked as if he was trying to read my darkest secrets.  He smiled at me and I felt like I wasn’t fooling him like I though, he knew what I was thinking.  I didn’t know what his game was or what he was planning to do with me, but I knew that, at least for the moment, I was entirely at his mercy.

The van stopped after half a day’s journey, I got out of the car with my baby safe again in my arms.  They took me to the side of the clearing where they were going to make camp.  It was weird that they were going to stop so soon, there was still enough light to continue, but I wasn’t in a position to ask questions.  I watched them carrying boxes and something that looked like tarps, then I watched as the tent started to build itself, maybe I was wrong and not all of them were mutants, there must be some telekinetics moving things.  After the tent was ready they carried the boxes inside.  One of the warriors stepped into the clearing with a wild boar on his shoulders, I hadn’t even noticed that he was hunting. Mbali took me to the inside of the tent while some of them stayed outside to prepare the wild boar for dinner.  They gave me a plate with food and I was so hungry that I left my fears and ate, not bothering to try to taste for drugs or poison.

“Why did we stop here?” Sei asked when we finished eating.

“Because I said so.” Was Kimball’s answer.

“This is not a good place to camp,” Sei insisted, “we are near the Fortress and some of their recruits could be out in practice missions as part of their training.”  When I heard that we were near the Fortress I had a hard time not reacting.  I needed to come up with a plan, I needed to take Malkia there, once inside she was going to be safe.

“Are you afraid of a bunch of children Sei?” Kimball was mocking her and I saw Sei getting angry at his words.

“I’m not scared, but I don’t see why we have to take unnecessary risks.”

“We are here because Mbali and I are going to take Kaiserin and her daughter to the Fortress.”  A sound of surprise escaped my lips before I could stop it.  I tried to recover from my surprise, but it was obvious they had noticed how the news affected me.  “I guessed that was your destination, was I right?” Trying not to betray any more emotions I just nodded.  I wondered how he knew where I was going, but most importantly, why was he helping me?

“That’s absurd,” Sei said, “if all she wanted was to get rid of the baby she didn’t need to travel so far, she could just give it to the Amazons.”

“I’m not getting rid of my baby,” I felt an intense need to justify myself, I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t shut up, “I’m giving her a chance to grow as part of the Empire, the chance to be part of her legacy.  And I wouldn’t let my daughter grow with the same beliefs of the Amazons.”

“So you don’t want her to grow up thinking that men are the root of all evil?  If you are not one of those bitter women that resent the male species, what are you doing with the Amazons?”  Sei was testing my patience, I don’t know why I let her goad me into a discussion, maybe I was too tired to think straight.

“I know that evil is not a matter of gender or origin, I’ve met men that enjoy making others suffer, men that get high on other people’s pain and men that think they are strong just because they get to kick a fallen warrior, but then, there are women just like that too.” I stared at Sei as I said the last words, not saying anything to her directly, but letting her know what I thought of her.  She wasn’t better than me just because she could take advantage of my weakness.

“How dare you? You think you are better than me?  You think you can act like you are a big deal?  You are nothing but a coward that ran scared from her Clan just because someone tried to kill her.”  I couldn’t help but laugh at her words and that made Sei even more angry than my words.

“Someone has been trying to kill me since I have memory, and no one has succeeded.  Those who have tried to kill me are dead now.”  I let my words act as a warning, because despite the situation, I wasn’t afraid of her, she was an opportunist, and I wasn’t letting her win.

“Then, why did you leave?” She asked.  I had no answer to that.  I realized that I had talked more than I should and I did what I should have done since the beginning, I remained silent.  Sei took my silence as an agreement and smiled.

“I think the answer to that is pretty obvious.”  Kimball said, breaking the awkward silence.  A couple of people mumbled their agreement.  But they couldn’t know the reason I left, could they?  Sei looked at him questioning with her eyes and Kimball continued.  “The reason she left her Clan is in front of you Sei, in her arms to be more exact.”  I was surprised, how could he know that Malkia was my reason for leaving?

“What does the baby has to do with it?” Dowe asked.

“The little one is fair haired, but members of the royal families are dark haired.  I think that such a sign of ‘impurity’ would be enough to push radical members of her Clan’s nobility to get rid of a baby that could become an heiress.” It was such a good description of the situation, and most of the members of his group were silent as they processed his words.

“That cannot be,” Sei said, “no one would be stupid enough to throw away the opportunity to rule the most powerful Clan just to save a single child.  That’s…”  she was shaking her head, I could see that he was trying to find a word that could cover her incredulity.

“Admirable.” The older man supplied a word to finish Sei’s sentence.  “Brave, honorable… It would be easier to stay and accept the situation, but to leave everything behind, and fight for the well being of someone that wasn’t even born, that requires bravery and strength.”

I was surprised again by the division in their group, Kimball and some of the others looked at me with admiration in their eyes, but Sei and her group were looking at me as if I had lost my mind, as if they pitied me for my stupidity.

“I can’t believe that something like hair color could be that important, there must be another reason for her desertion.”  Dowe was looking at my baby, the baby he had threatened, as if he was looking at her for the first time, as if he was just noticing that she was a human being.

“Please,” Kimball said, “you must know that is part of human nature to find a way to discriminate others.  Even though our country is past the black versus white nonsense, and even halfbloods like myself are accepted, people still look for ways to discriminate.  You may not hold the color of my skin or my eyes against me, the reason you cannot accept me as your true leader is because my mother is not from African royalty.”  Kimball turned to me and continued his speech looking at me.  “I’m lucky my people don’t kill unwanted heirs, but it was hard for me to be recognized as a prince of my people because my mother didn’t come from the right background.”

“At the end of the day is not important who our parents are of the color of our skins,” Mbali said, “what’s important is what is inside us, and no one can deny that you are a true leader and a strong warrior.  Not one of your cousins, not even me, can compare to you.”

That was a feeling I could understand, but I was aware of how different my life would have been if my eyes were a different color.  It was unfair, but it was reality, I knew my daughter would have been judged and find lacking in the eyes of my Clan, not just because of her hair and eye color, but because of who her father was.

“It’s time to go if we want to arrive at the Fortress with daylight.”  With that Kimball put an end to our discussion.

I went outside with Kimball and Mbali, I turned and was surprised when I didn’t see the tent.  Mbali took a remote control out of her belt and one of the trucks shimmered into existence, Kimball went to it and got a pair of motorcycles out of it.

“You will be riding with me,” he said, “I hope is alright with you.”

“It’s an interesting camouflage you have here.”  If I paid attention I could see the illusion, the edges where the illusion was weaker and you could see the tent and the place where the trucks were hidden.  It was a very good trick and I understood why Kimball wasn’t worried about being discovered, you would have to run into them to find them.

With Malkia strapped to my back, I climbed on the motorcycle with Kimball.  The trip was shorter than I expected, in less than an hour we were at the limits of the forest around the Fortress.  I could see the place where Malkia would grow up.  I had always intended to take her there, but I couldn’t help but have second thoughts about it, I have grown used to her and I knew I would miss her a lot, but I needed to do what was best for her, not for me.

“Do you think they would recognize you if you go there?” Kimball asked after a while, I had been watching the place for a long time.

“My original plan was to use illusions to disguise myself, but I’m not sure I would be able to do it.”  The headache was not as bad as before, but I knew that any attempt to use my powers could be dangerous, not to mention painful.

“Would you like me to go in your place?” Mbali asked.  It was a good idea, no one would know her, but still I wasn’t sure about trusting her with the task.

“It would be the best option.” I finally accepted, just because there wasn’t really any other choice.  “Her name is Malkia, make sure they know that.  They will see that you are not part of the Clan, but tell them her father was.  They will have a Vlad with them, that would be enough to confirm that she was imperial blood, they will know she belongs with them.”

Kimball and I watched as Mbali took Malkia to the Fortress and disappeared behind its doors.  I felt an irrational desire to go and take Malkia back, but I knew it wasn’t possible. From the hundred of possible futures I looked at in my visions I knew that taking her there was the best choice.  Nothing could guarantee that nothing would happen to her there, but it gave her the best chance at having a better future.

“What happens now?” I asked Kimball, looking for something to distract me from the pain of letting my little girl go.

“What do you mean by that?” Kimball was staring at me again, I felt as if he could look into my mind, my thoughts, but I knew that was impossible, he was a mutant, not a telepath.

“What are you going to do with me?  Why am I here?  Why are you helping me?”

“I’m helping you because it’s the right thing to do.  You are here because we never got to finish our fight and I’m curious as to which one is stronger.  And I won’t do to you anything you don’t want.”  It was hard to believe his words, past experiences were telling me not to trust him.  “We need to meet with the Scavengers, after that we can have a rematch, I expect you to be completely healed by then.”

“And then? What happens if I win? What happens if you win?” I had to know, despite the fact that I wasn’t going to lose, I didn’t have my pregnancy to hold me back, and I wasn’t going to let another man control me like Vasuman had.

“Then you decide, win or lose, it will be your decision.  Once we finish our mission, I could take you back to the Amazons or any other place you want.”  Kimball was looking at me as if my face was an open book where he could read everything about me.  “You don’t believe me.” It wasn’t a question.  “You don’t think I will keep my word.”

“How do you do that?” I couldn’t help but ask.  “I know you are not reading my mind, there’s no way you can enter my mind, but you know everything: my name, my motivations, even my thoughts… how?”

“I can’t read your mind, but I can read your body.  Movements, posture, gestures.  If you know how to read them you know what is going through a person’s mind.  It’s not easy,” he said, probably answering a question he saw in my eyes, “you are very good at hiding, but I’m very good at reading micro expressions, and I know how to read clues.  It’s not easy to see you are afraid, when you are seated among your enemies as if you were a queen holding court.  It’s hard to see you are running away when you hide yourself behind a wall of confidence as if no one is capable of touching you.  I have seen you trembling in pain, but still holding yourself strong before the unknown.  You are an incredible woman Kaiserin, and I’m honored by knowing you.  I don’t intend to harm you, you can trust me.  I would never betray you.”

“If that is true, then you would be more trustworthy than every person I have met in my life.”

Chapter 9

I was hurting.  I was in pain.  For a moment I didn’t know where I was, but I was thrown back to those days when it was normal to wake up with a broken body and a headache that felt like someone was trying to crack my skull open.  But those days were over, Agmong was dead.  What had happened? Why was I feeling like that?  I started to hear the sounds around me, voices I didn’t recognize speaking in a language I couldn’t understand.  And then I heard a baby crying.  My baby.  I forgot all my training at that moment, I just reacted, I opened my eyes and sat up.  It was an error to move so fast, I felt sick and my vision went dark for a second.

“Take it easy, everything is alright,” a voice that sounded familiar said to me.  “Your baby is ok, she’s just hungry.”  I felt a hand on my back and tensed, I was ready to try and defend myself.  “Easy,” he repeated, “I won’t hurt you.  Do you think you can nurse your baby girl? I’m afraid we are short on baby food.”

I finally managed to clear my mind and focus on what was important: my daughter.  I took a deep breath and concentrated on blocking the pain, I needed to calm down and focus on my next task.  I extended my arms and the man put little Malkia on them.  When the man bent over to give me Malkia I could see his face, beautiful green eyes were staring back at me, it was then that I finally connected the voice with a memory, he was the man I had fought the day I joined the Amazons.

“I see you remember me,” his lips curved in a smile, but I wasn’t sure if I found the gesture comforting or threatening.  “Don’t worry, you’re safe here.”

I took a moment to look around, we were in a huge tent, there was a fire in the center and a few people were sitting around it.  I was sitting on one side of the tent, there were some blankets and pillows under me.  The man went back to the fire and I saw that they were eating.  I could see that they were trying to give me a little privacy and I wasn’t sure what to think about that, they were watching me out of the corner of their eyes, but they were subtle about it.  There was something weird about them, the last time I saw them, I thought that they were wearing some kind of paint because of the darkness of their skin, but now I could see that it was their natural color, most of them had black skin, only a couple, like the man with green eyes had lighter skin, and it was still darker than most people I knew.  It was such a simple matter, but it was puzzling me.

They had taken my jacket off, and I noticed a few bandages on my arms, they had taken care of my injuries.  I lifted my shirt so I could nurse Malkia.  I was mostly covered, but for some reason I felt naked and vulnerable.  They weren’t paying me attention and after a few minutes I felt more at ease.  I couldn’t understand what they were saying, that was why I couldn’t completely relax, I knew most of the languages spoken in the land, but I couldn’t recognize theirs.  I tried not to worry, I was alive and so was my daughter, and for the moment it was all that mattered, I would worry about their plans for us later.

I heard a noise and saw another group entering the tent.  The man got up and walked towards a woman that I guessed was in charge of the group arriving, they started talking like she was reporting to him.  Two of the people arriving went to sit with the others, but the other two saw me and starting moving towards me.  I tried to ignore them as they moved around the others.  I didn’t need my powers to know what they were thinking, it was clearly painted on their faces, I had seen the same intent in many others in the past.  I forced myself to remain calm, I wanted to run or fight, but I couldn’t, so I tried my best to appear unaffected.  It was difficult, I felt like I had fallen into a nightmare, I was weak, defenseless and at the mercy of men that wanted to abuse me.

“After the recon mission I’m a little thirsty,” one of them said, he was standing just a couple of feet from me.

“Same here, I’m craving some milk, don’t you?” The way they were talking and the way they were looking at me was making my skin crawl, but I kept an appearance of calmness, I couldn’t let them see they were affecting me.

“I think I’ll take a turn after the baby, those breasts are mouthwatering.”  I noticed a change in the atmosphere, it was suddenly heavy and more people were paying attention to us now.  I knew I should have seen it coming, I was just a prisoner, it was just a matter of time before they decided to take advantage of me, they were in control after all, I was too weak to fight back.

“Why should we wait?” The other one said.  “Let´s just get rid of the baby and we won’t have to wait our turn.”  I saw him extending his hand as he was talking, I saw him reaching for my baby, trying to take her away from me.

I wasn’t thinking, I just reacted, not caring about the pain or the consequences.  I used my mind to push him and the other man, throwing them to the other side of the tent.  It was after that that I noticed my error, everyone was standing, they were moving, some trying to reach me.  I tried to get up, I needed to escape, but my attack had only made my headache get worse, I couldn’t see straight, and when I tried to stand up my legs weren’t strong enough to hold me, my legs buckled under me and I thought I was going to fall, but I didn’t, strong arms surrounded me, holding me up.  I didn’t need to see to know who he was, I knew those arms, and I knew the power behind them, he could crush me easily, there was no way I could escape him, I was trapped.

The noises got quiet and I knew that whatever was going on was now finished.  The man moved and moved me with him, I tried to focus my sight and saw the man that had tried to take Malkia away on the floor, one of the women had her foot on his head, and had the other man by the neck.

“We were only joking,” said the man on the floor.

“You are all overreacting,” said the woman that had arrived with them, “they were just having a little fun.  Just calm down.”

“The life of a little baby is a joke to you?” asked the woman that had them subdued.

“That’s enough Mbali,” the man that had me, said.  “Take our guest to my room, I’ll go there as soon as I settle this.”

The woman, Mbali, let them go and came to me, she put one arm around my waist and the other over my own arm to help me hold Malkia.  I was too weak and I couldn’t move without help, so I had no choice but to follow her. I was halfway there when the words of the man really sunk in, I was going to his room, I started to panic, but then decided that maybe it was best that way, I preferred to be with just one of them than to be abused by the whole camp.  After Agmong and then Joshes I thought that I would never let myself be in that situation again, that I would rather die than let someone take me without my permission, but I had no choice, it was my daughter I had to think of, not only myself, I had to endure whatever happened as long as my child was safe.

The woman, Mbali, took me to the side of the tent, there was an opening in the fabric, it took us to another room, it had an air mattress and also some packs and tools.  She helped me down to the mattress and then she sat next to me.

“Are you ok?” She asked, but I didn’t know how to answer, besides, I had no energy left to speak.  “Don’t worry about them, I won’t let anything happen to your daughter.” She sounded sincere and I wanted to trust her, but I couldn’t, she may be just trying to get me to trust her so she could manipulate me.

Just a couple of minutes later the man entered the room.  He looked even bigger in the small space, he had to keep his head down, the roof was lower in there and he couldn’t even stand straight.  He had a plate with food in one hand and a bottle of water in the other, he put both of them in front of me.

“I’m sorry about what happened,” his voice was nice and gentle, not like the strong and domineering tone he had used with his men.  “My name is Kimball,” he said with a smile.  “Are you ok?” He looked at me, but didn’t wait for my answer.  “Are you in pain?” He was staring at me, and it was making me nervous.  I closed my eyes, I didn’t want to see him looking at me, and then I didn’t have the strength to open them again, it was easier just to stay that way.  “I’ll give you something for the pain.”  I felt panic, the last thing I needed was to be drugged.

“I just need to rest.” My voice was fragile, weak, and I hated that I was showing them my weakness.

“Are you sure about that?” Kimball asked.  I didn’t know how to answer, if I said I was sure, would he force the drugs on me anyway? Or would he listen to me and respect my wishes?  “If you need anything call me, I will be just outside.” He left the food beside the bed and then Mbali helped me lay on the bed, she put my daughter by my side and then left with Kimball.

The pain was overwhelming, I couldn’t even move, I had over used my powers and I knew that I was lucky I wasn’t dead.  I left my body, I couldn’t handle the pain anymore and outside my body I could forget for a moment and let my body recover.  I wasn’t going to be much help to my daughter until I got better.

I stayed on the material plane, I stayed close, and I saw the people going to the different rooms to rest for the night, I expected Kimball to go into the room any moment, but he moved the blankets where I had rested, to the front of the division between the common area and the room I was in, and sat there, Mbali joined him for a while.  Were they a couple? Mbali left and Kimball lay down and went to sleep outside my room.

I was surprised to see that and I felt a little bit safer, I explored more and realized that I was a long way from where the battle had taken place.  After that I spent a moment in the superior planes trying to find some peace before returning to my body.  I fed Malkia and ate some of the food they had left for me, but ignored the pills, I wasn’t sure if they were really for the pain or something more.  I wanted to leave my body again, I knew I needed some rest, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but I had already spent too much time outside and it was dangerous, so I had to endure the pain as much as I could.

The morning arrived sooner than I expected, I hadn’t been able to rest much and my head was killing me.  Mbali entered the room while I was nursing Malkia.  She didn’t say anything, she waited for me to finish before she knelt beside me and then helped me change her.

“How are you feeling? Better?” I shook my head, and then realized that I was admitting my weakness to my enemy.  “Come with me.”  She helped me get to my feet and then guided me to the center of the tent, where the others were already having breakfast.

Mbali sat me beside her, across from me was an older man that as looking at me as if I was a puzzle he was trying to solve.  On his side were the men that had tried to hurt Malkia and the woman that had defended them was next to them.  She was discussing with Kimball.

“She is my guest,” Kimball responded to her foreign words in a language I understood.  “I won’t repeat myself, I left everything clear yesterday.”

The woman continued to talk in the language I couldn’t understand, her tone of voice growing with each sentence, she was talking about me and wanted me to know that, she just didn’t want me to understand her words, but I didn’t care.  I felt bad, the pain was bad and my headache was just getting worse, attacking those men the day before had been a mistake, I knew I was just a step from passing out, the pain was that bad.  Mbali gave me a plate of food and I started to panic, what if the food was poisoned, what if they had noticed I didn’t take the pills and were trying to drug me.  I noticed that everyone was eating from the same pot and considered that maybe I was being paranoid.  I wasn’t thinking straight, the pain was getting to me.  The discussion kept rising in volume and I felt like someone was hammering my head.  I let the plate of food slip from my fingers, I took my hands to my head and started to press on my temples, as if it could hold the pain at bay.  I closed my eyes and tried to block everything.

I felt a hand on my arm and opened my eyes to see Kimball in front of me.

“What’s wrong?” He asked me, but I couldn’t speak, I could just stare at him.  “What’s the problem?” I felt like I was going to pass out and he shook me.  “Kaiserin! What’s wrong?”

That was a name I hadn’t heard in a long time and I was surprised.  Have I told them my name?  They weren’t supposed to know it.

“Kaiserin?  Did you just call her Kaiserin?” The woman he was discussing with asked.  “Kaiserin, as in Empress Kaiserin?”  I felt everyone’s eyes on me, they were all waiting for an answer.

“Just shut up Sei,” Kimball growled the words.

“It kind of makes sense, she was really alone, just someone with a reputation like hers could defeat some Natives and then a group of Scavengers.  Do you have any idea what she is worth?  If we give her to the Imperialist Clan our reward would be great, they are offering instant recognition as part of the Alliance and they are also offering territories for her!”

“Is good, then, that we don’t have any desire to get into the Alliance and that we don’t need any territories,” Kimball said in a tone that made it clear that the conversation was over.  But everything was different, I could feel the change in the atmosphere, everyone was staring at me and I could feel the weight of their stares.  “Glassy eyes, photosensitivity, shivering, paleness… you have a migraine, don’t you?  You need something for the pain.”

“It’s a psychic headache, there’s nothing I can take that would ease this kind of pain.”  I saw something like concern in his eyes, but I couldn’t focus on it, I couldn’t think of that or anything else, the pain was consuming everything.

“You need to rest, are you finished eating?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Come then.”  Kimball took Malkia an put her in the crook of his arm, his other arm he put around my waist.  He helped me up and guided me outside.  The light of the sun hurt my eyes and I kept my eyes closed, letting Kimball lead the way.  I heard a door opening and then he took me to the inside of a van.  “You can rest here while we pack the camp, the place is dark and quiet.” There were two benches on the sides, Kimball took me to one and helped me lay down, he then put Malkia over me.  “Rest, you will feel better after a nap.”  I didn’t intend on follow his advice, but I was tired, and not long after he left I fell asleep.