Ch 49-b

Malkia was starting to think that all the warning and horror stories she had been listening to the last few years were nothing but lies.  Dendro had been nervous from the moment they arrived at the Palace’s territory, he couldn’t stop looking around, as if he was expecting an ambush at any moment, but so far they hadn’t found any problems, and Malkia was starting to relax.  When they arrived at the area they would be staying in, one that they had been warned was private and not many were allowed inside, Dendro’s attitude had become even more cautious.  Greca was the first to notice the change, but Malkia noticed not long after, and then she noticed a pair of imperial warriors coming their way.

“Dendro, it’s nice to see you again,” one of them greeted him, with a familiarity that Malkia was sure wasn’t well received.

“It’s a pleasure to have you again with us,” the other warrior said, his attitude a lot more respectful, “it’s an honor to hav…” the warrior’s eyes had been looking over them, and when his eyes made contact with Malkia his words died out and his attitude shifted completely.  The warrior next to him noticed the chance and looked over to see what had caught his attention, and when he found it, his attitude also changed.  “You have a lot to explain,” the warrior told Dendro, all his respect gone and his attitude turning aggressive.

“Nothing to explain, Maddan,” Dendro said.  “Agis, I’m sorry I can’t say the same to you.”

“She looks like a very close copy of Kaiserin,” Agis, the other warrior said, “and for years you told us you had no idea where she was.”

“I don’t know where Kaiserin is, just that she trusted me with the care of her daughters.  If she wanted you to know about this, she would have told you herself.”

“Daughters?  Plural?” Maddan asked, his eyes going again over the group and stopping on Greca.

Greca felt his mind trying to read her thoughts, but with just a little effort she managed to avoid the invasion, mostly because Maddan didn’t press on with his attack.

Several hurried steps could be heard in the hallways, and soon another three warriors were with the group, two men and a woman.  The three were looking at the group with open curiosity, all three of them staring at Malkia.

“Dendro?  Is there something you would want to share with the group?” one of the warriors asked.

“I asked the same question,” Maddan said.

“What’s your name?” the woman asked Malkia.  “And who is the young lady with you?”

“My name is Malkia, I’m Antrax’s partner and this is my sister Greca,” Malkia knew why the group looked so interested in her, but she didn’t try to offer more information.

“Your son’s partner?” Agis asked.  “After the unfortunate accident of your own partner, I would expect you to take her as your partner.”

“I respect both Kaiserin and my son too much to do something like that,” Dendro said.

A heated discussion started between Dendro and the Imperial warriors, especially the first two they found, and after a while nor Malkia nor Greca fully understood what they were talking about, but they knew that the fight was about their mother and what they thought they deserved from her.  After a few minutes they heard laughter from the other side of the hallway, and Malkia was surprised to see Kimball walking their way.

“What are you laughing about?” Agis asked.

“It’s fun watching you fight over something you already lost, especially since I have it.”

“You don’t even know what we are talking about,” another of the warriors pointed out.

“The correct term would be to say someone they lost, not something,” Ethan corrected at the same time the other talked, and that caught the attention of a couple of the warriors, the ones that haven’t been part of the discussion and therefore were more focused on what was going on around them.”

“Who do you think you are to interrupt our discussion'” Maddan challenged him.

“Father?” Greca chose that moment to ask, “What are you doing here?” Her words left the group in silence, some making the connection faster than others.  Since Greca was Malkia’s sister, and Malkia was so obviously Kaiserin’s daughter, then that meant that Greca was also her daughter, and if Kimball was her father, that would make him Kaiserin’s partner.

“You shouldn’t have said that?” Ethan complained, “you are only encouraging him, encouraging his bad attitude.”

“I think you forgot a few things the last time we saw each other,” Malkia told Ethan.

“Do you think so?  I believe everything has its time and place, that wasn’t the right moment.”

“I don’t appreciate you being here, especially since our mother insisted I had to stay away from the Palace for so long.  What makes you so especial?”  Malkia complained, her frustration so bad she forgot to think about the consequences of her words before speaking.

“Well, for starters, I’m not a copy of her, and if no one had said anything about me being her son, no one would have found out, I would have been able to enter and leave without anyone knowing about it, that gives me an advantage, one you can’t have while looking so much like her,” after his words Malkia looked around and realized everyone was watching them and listening to their conversation.

“There is no way this could be true.  Kaiserin would never stoop so low as to have relations with a mutant,” Agis complained, using the word mutant as an insult.

“I don’t see how it would be bad for the most powerful psychic in the world to be with the most powerful mutant in the world,” Ethan said, speaking out for his father.

“I think our mother was being way too protective asking me to hide with the Assassins for so long,” Malkia said, still bothered with the situation and Ethan’s presence.

“Do you want to know why she insisted you needed to be away from this clan?  Take a look at General Agis’ mind,” Ethan told Malkia, but it was Greca who took the initiative, and she didn’t like what found on his superficial thoughts.

“Ethan is right, you should see what he is planning,” Greca said, “he is thinking of going to the Emperor and request for you to be taken from the Assassins and put under his supervision, he will claim you belong to the Imperial Clan, but his intentions are…” Greca didn’t go on, she simply let Malkia borrow her powers so she could see the same things she was seeing.

Agis wasn’t going to stay still, as soon as he felt the sister’s minds, he started building barriers in his mind, but their curiosity and combined power was enough to tear them apart, still, Agis had an advantage over them, one that fell apart when a third mind joined them.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Agis complained.  “Get out of my mind immediately.”

“Who do you think you are to try and take my partner?” Antrax, who had been quiet until then, asked.  “I don’t care who Malkia’s mother was, she is my partner and she stays with me.”

“I said, out of my mind!” Agis repeated, attacking Ethan, who was the closest to him, but before he could connect, Kimball shook off the cuffs and grabbed Agis by his jacket, throwing him against a wall.

“I was waiting for you to give me a chance to do this,” Kimball said with a smirk, as he hit Agis against the wall again and again, but then his movements started to get slower, several threads of hair started wrapping around him, holding him still.

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate someone knocking some sense into Agis,” the woman said, “but I can’t let someone just attack an Imperialist in our own stronghold.”

“How is it possible for him to free himself?” Maddan questioned the warrior that had been escorting Kimball and Ethan.  “And the kid is supposed to have his powers blocked before being allowed to enter this part of the Palace.”

“And we did,” the warrior answered, picking up the cuffs, “we even tried with a few other kinds, this are the strongest ones, and he said he wouldn’t be able to break this ones.”

“And I didn’t, I opened them,” Kimball said, he had been forced to let Agis go, his movements growing slower and more difficult.

“And I checked that the blocker was working myself,” the warrior said, “besides, he was classified as an empath, there was no reason to think he could do something like this.”

“I’m sorry,” Ethan said, but it was obvious he didn’t mean that, “but blockers make me feel weird, so I disabled it.  And even if empathy is my main ability, I’m actually classified as a hybrid.”

Before they could continue the discussion, a flare enveloped Kimball, burning all the hair wrapped around him, freeing him from the bondage and returning him his freedom of movement.  His dark skin showed a few burns that were healing before the eyes of the other warriors.

“I will take care of them,” Maddan said, and by the way his subordinate was acting, it was clear that more had been added telepathically.

“You feel dangerous,” one of the men told Ethan, “I can’t figure out why, yet.”

“I think, uncle Kozlak, that is because you can feel my confidence, and there’s only two kind of people that would be this confident in the middle or enemy territory, those that are incredibly stupid, and those who are very strong, and since you know who my mother is, you should know I’m not stupid.  Knowledge is power, and I’m carrying quite the arsenal.”

“And what do you know?” another of the warriors challenged him.

“I know your name is Geb, and that you served under my mother’s command, and I also know you were with the group who found her and helped her get her memory back.”

“This is not the moment to be talking about that,” Agis said, he had managed to get Kaiserin’s children’s minds out of his, and had moved to where Malkia was standing.  “Why don’t you come with me to a private space where we can discuss the situation more calmly?”

“She is going nowhere with you,” Antrax quickly answered, stepping between him and Malkia.

“You are wasting your time, Agis, Malkia won’t fall into your hands,” Kimball said.

“You think you can stop me?” Agis challenged him.

“I made sure, a long time ago, that if you dared put your hand on her, it would be the last thing you did,” Kimball said, with a menacing smile, while Maddan was checking the cuffs, probably looking for a way to put them back on Kimball, but he eventually decided it would be a waste of time.

“What do you mean by that?” Agis asked.

“If you were paying attention, Agis, you would have already noticed that she is Antrax’s partner, and he is the heir to the Assassins, there is a very particular characteristic that they must have so their union can be possible.  I agree, we have a lot to talk about, and this is not the place for that,” the woman looked around, they were still in the hallway and sound could carry in that place.

“I have no problem with that,” Malkia said, “I too have a lot of questions.  But I don’t want him to be with us,” she said, pointing to Agis, who still looked a little out of control.

“Don’t worry, we will make this first meeting a family affair.”

“And what about me?” Geb protested.

“You can come as my partner,” she said, and noticed Maddan’s stare.  “We could include those two in the reunion, and you could come with the excuse of guarding them,” she suggested, pointing Kimball and Ethan.

“No matter how attractive the idea sounds, I have my orders with regards to these two, and now that I’ve seen what they are capable of, I think it would be best if I take care of them personally.”

Both Kimball and Ethan smiled at that, the similarities between the two becoming even more clear thanks to the identical expressions on their faces.

Will we see each other soon?‘ Greca asked Ethan using telepathy.

It depends, if everything goes well, it’s probable that we will make a lot of enemies and will be forced to leave the territory fast to avoid problems, the other option is that we will end in the dungeons.

Take care, there is a lot you still have to explain,‘ Greca warned.

You too sister, remember that you are in a greater danger than I.’

Greca had seen Agis mind and his hidden desires, she knew that Malkia was the one in the greatest risk, but she also knew that the attention could easily shift to her once they found out she was also Kaiserin’s daughter.

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Bonus: Alliance

Kimball, Mthunzi and a small group of warriors arrived at the edge of the Assassin’s territory and were soon intercepted by a group of sentries patrolling the border.  Once they explained who they were, Kimball and Mthunzi were escorted to the city.  As soon as they arrived, they were taken to a room where Dendro was already waiting for them, sitting at the head of the table that took most of the room.

“Greetings,” Mthunzi said, respectfully, but still managing to sound haughty.  “Thank you for receiving us.  My name is Mthunzi and I’m the leader of the Shadows, and this is General Kimball.”

“We know each other,” Kimball said, “it’s a pleasure to see you again.”

“The last time I didn’t get a chance to thank you for your help,” Dendro said, “so I want to do it now.  Thanks you for helping us save Malkia’s life.”

“I have to say the pleasure was mine, as you can imagine, after talking to my son, my actions weren’t for your benefit, I was acting on my own best interest.”

“Even so, you did my son and I a great favor.  Please, take a seat,” Dendro added, pointing to the seats in front of him.

They were just sitting down when the door opened and a couple of Generals, followed by Antrax, Malkia and a group of guards that included Greca, entered the room.  As soon as Malkia saw Kimball her face filled with surprise and happiness, she was fast to hide her reaction, but most of the people there was able to catch her reaction.

“Kimball?” she asked, not taking her eyes off of him.  “What are you doing here?”

“Do you know him?” Dendro asked, doing a better job of hiding his surprise.

“He was a frequent visitor at the Fortress.  I had the chance of speaking with him on several occasions during his visits.  But I wasn’t expecting to see him again, especially not here.”

“These two are the representatives from the Shadow’s Clan,” Dendro explained, “and General Kimball is the man who visited us previously.”

“He is the one that helped us save you,” Greca said, “the man that managed to escape our cells.”  Malkia didn’t react to the new information, lost in her thought for a moment, she watched Kimball and then her eyes turned to her sister.

Do you remember that I told you about Kimball when we were in the Fortress?‘ Malkia asked her sister telepathically.

The warrior that used to go visit his daughter every year,‘ Greca said, and as soon as she said that, it was like the pieces of a puzzle she didn’t even know she had, fell into place.  Greca stared at Kimball, as if she could read the truth on his face.  “Are you my father?” she asked directly, and a huge smile broke on Kimball’s face.

“I knew that you would be able to figure it out, but I have to admit that even I’m impressed by how fast you reached that conclusion.”

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Greca said, not knowing exactly how else to react.

“It wasn’t a coincidence that you happened to be near our clan when I needed help, was it?”  Malkia asked.  “You knew what was going to happen, somehow.”

“Your mother was the one who told me you were in danger.  She wanted to come herself to fix the problem, but because of my abilities, we thought I was a better choice to come here.  Besides, I had a promise to fulfill.”

A memory that Malkia had forgotten resurfaced.  She remembered one of her talks with Kimball.  She had been still a little girl then, jealous of Kimball’s daughter because he visited her every year.  At the time the only relative she knew was her sister, but she wanted a connection like the one Kimball had with his daughter.  She had even asked one of the trainers what a father was, and he had told her that father was the one who gave you life, whose blood ran through your veins.  During his next visit, she had even told Kimball she wished she was his daughter, and he had told her that he would be honored to call her his daughter, but Malkia insisted that was impossible since they didn’t share the same blood, he had tried to explain there were different kinds of fathers, other than the biological one, but said he understood if she didn’t share the same way of thinking.  He also told her that if it had been in his power, then she would have been like to be her father.

“So you helped me live, by giving me your blood,” Malkia said.  Thinking again of her old description of what a father was.

You know our laws prohibit interfering in the life of the dark ones,” Mthunzi said, using the most common language between the Mzansiers, the one that resembled the one used by the Rebel Clans.  “You know the punishment that kind of actions have, just wait until our King hears about this,” Mthunzi continued, almost happy, just thinking about it.

What makes you think he doesn’t know?” Kimball asked, not looking concerned with Mthunzi’s veiled threats.

If he knew…” she started, but then thought about it.  “When was the last time you went to Mzansi?”  Kimball only stared at her as his answer.  “So you were exiled!  The mighty Kimball has fallen from grace.

That’s relative, we all know perfectly that Kgosi didn’t exile me because I broke the rules, but because he thinks he will be able to stop the inevitable by keeping me away.  But don’t you worry about it, this is between the King and me, it has nothing to do with you.

“You got into trouble because of me?” Malkia asked, she had understood enough of the conversation to know what helping her had costed him.

“Nothing for you to worry about, besides, this is only a temporary setback, nothing that really affected me.  But that’s not why we are here, we have some business to do, and maybe, later, we could have a private talk,” Kimball said, looking between Malkia and Greca.  Both sisters looked at each other and quickly reached a decision.

“Once the meeting is over, we can stay and talk for a while, I’m sure there is a lot to talk about.  And some things that have to be explained,” Malkia said.

Kimball only smiled, happy, because for the first time, after so many years, he would be able to talk to his daughters, face to face, without lies or barriers between them.  Mthunzi didn’t worry him, after all they were equals, both of them Generals of Mzansi, even if they were from different divisions and Mthunzi was the leader of the biggest one, Kimball was sure about his situation and saw no need to get involved in posturing or pointless discussions.  Everything was going according to his plans, and soon his family would be united, if not physically, at least in essence.

Chapter 46

I had the feeling something was about to happen, and I knew better than to ignore it, it didn’t feel like something bad, just something relevant.  I was walking back to my Suite in the Palace, lost in my own mind, but still aware enough to realize I was being followed.  I just needed a little focus to realize who was, but instead of sending my guards after him, I used telepathy to let them know I no longer needed them.  I was sure they had noticed we were being followed, but still, they followed my orders.  I took a few more turns and then went inside of the many rooms there, not long after Camil followed me inside.

“Greetings, Camil, I guess you wanted to talk to me?” I told him.

“That’s right,” he said, “I’m sorry for the approach, it’s just I wasn’t sure how to ask for a meeting.”

“That’s alright, how can I help you?”

“Melchizedek spoke greatly of you, that’s why I decided to ask you for advice,” I could briefly feel he was uncomfortable, but I had to admire his courage to talk to me.

“If there is something I can help you with, then I would gladly do it.”

“I don’t know if my grandma or uncle have talked to you, but they decided it’s time for me to step into my place inside the Dominion and become the King.  The thing is, I don’t think that’s the best option.  From all I have been told, and all I have seen, I believe William is doing a good job, and I’m not sure I’m the right person to take over.  There are a lot of things I don’t quite understand yet, and I don’t want to fail people depending on me.  What do you think?  Do you think I should just get over my doubts and become the King?”

“I don’t like telling you what to do, but I think that your feelings are valid and it speaks greatly of you that you have those doubts, the fact that you are paying attention to them shows that you have a good head over your shoulders.  I think that you should first think about what you want, that’s the important part, then you can think about everything else, and decide what’s more important for you.  You need to look for alternatives, see if there are other options where you would feel more comfortable.  You are right by saying that William has done an excellent job, he is a very good King, despite everything, but you must know that even if he loses that position, he has other options and he will find a way to keep working for the good of the Dominion and its people.  And you could do the same.”

“It’s just that my grandma and uncle talk about it as if it’s a sure thing, and I don’t even know what to think anymore.”

“Both of them love you, and want what’s best for you.  If you feel that being King it’s not the best for you, maybe they will help you find alternatives.”

“So you don’t think I’m being selfish for not wanting to be the King?”

“We didn’t bring you here because we needed you to be the King, but because this is where you belong, and because you were at risk, in fact, if it had been safe for you to stay in the Kingdom, it’s possible that Sofia wouldn’t have asked to bring you here.  William and Sofia want only what’s best for you, and your happiness it’s important to them, that’s why I think they won’t have a problem if you decide you don’t want to be a king, just make sure that whatever decision you make, it’s for the right reasons.”

“Thank you, I really appreciate your words, and I think this chat will help me a lot,” Camil gave me a small bow and I could feel his sincerity.  “Our talk has given me a lot to think about, so I will leave, thank you for taking the time to speak with me, I really appreciate it.”

Camil left the room, and I moment later I did too, and I found my guards had returned and were waiting for me.  At first I had thought that the feeling I was feeling had something to do with Camil, but after our talk had finished, I realized that I still had that feeling that warned me something was about to happen.

I wasn’t sure what it was, but since it wasn’t a bad feeling, I decided to keep my routine, I had dinner with Kimball and Ethan, talked about our days and I let them know what I knew about the Empire.  The Succession Battle had ended, and as I suspected, Trajan’s son had won the right to be the next Emperor.  I wasn’t sure if he was going to be a good ruler, but I hoped he would be a good one, if he was anything like his father, I just hoped it would be easy to speak with him and that it would be possible for him to recognize the Shadow’s Clan without him making a big issue out of it.

It wasn’t until I was lying down in bed that I realized what the feeling had been telling me, I felt a call at the distance, a need, and without thinking about it, I went into the astral planes, following the call.  It didn’t take long to find Malkia, and I could see that she had been trying to contact me for a while.

Greeting, Malkia.  To what do I owe this meeting?

It’s good to see you, I wasn’t sure you were coming,‘ she told me, and I felt angry at her words.

If you need me, then I will be here,‘ I immediately replied.

I know, you haven’t failed me yet, even if it has been a while since we had a talk like this one.  I don’t know if you are aware, but a new Emperor was chosen.  As allies to their clan, the Assassins had a right to be there, but Antrax and I had to stay, again, because we couldn’t risk something happening to me.  Dendro insisted it wasn’t a good idea for me to be there.

And he was right, your presence during the battle would have been really dangerous for you.  You may not believe me, but not being there probably saved your life.

Why?  That’s what I want to know.  Why it’s so important for me to stay away?

Because, as the daughter of two high ranking officers, you had a right to be there, just like the others taking part of the battle, but none of them would be willing to let you take that opportunity.

What do you mean by that?‘ Malkia asked, her tone turning tentative.

That’s one of the reasons we have worked so hard to keep you away from anyone that could recognize you.  You are part of a great dynasty, and because of that, you have a right to the throne,‘ I knew that I was taking a risk by giving her another piece of the puzzle, but I needed her to really understand the situation, and to start giving her the information she deserved to know.

Even if that was true, I’m Antrax’s partner, I have no intention of leaving him for another clan,‘ even if her words were sincere, I also knew she haven’t had a chance to process the information I was giving her, besides, she didn’t understand that it didn’t really matter what she intended to do, the others would still take any actions they could to keep her away from the throne.  My own experience showed what some people would be willing to do to secure the throne.

That doesn’t matter, many people won’t listen to your words, they will just act.  If you had been present before or during the battle, you would have put a target on your back.

‘But I’m Antrax’s partner, the future leader of the Assassins, I can’t keep hiding forever,’ Malkia said angrily, and I had to admit she had reason to be mad at the situation.

And you won’t have to hide forever, once Pompeyo solidifies his position, your presence won’t be such a big threat.  There will still be some risk, I wan’t you to remember that, but there will be other factors that will help for your position not to be so dangerous.  I just hope that you had taken my advice to heart and are prepared to fight for your life if you need to.  You will need to be ready to face really powerful enemies.

What did you do that was so terrible that even I have to face the consequences?‘ Malkia asked, and I could hear some resentment in her voice.

I did something they couldn’t forgive, I dared to be stronger than them,‘ I explained.  ‘There were many that weren’t happy with that, many that did their best to take me out of their way, and then resented me for fighting back.  For many the fact that I was more powerful than them became a personal affront.  And the problem is that many that couldn’t defeat me, will see you as a second chance for revenge.

‘Even so, the next time we receive a summon from the Empire, I will answer,’ Malkia warned, and I knew I couldn’t blame her for that decision.

All I can do is wish you luck, and ask you that you keep your guard up as soon as you enter the Imperial Palace’s territory.  I really wish it could be different, but this is our situation.  I’m sorry that I couldn’t be more clear from the beginning, and for everything I hid from you, but I want you to know that everything I have done, I’ve done it thinking on your best interest.  Yours and your sister’s.’

Thank you,‘ Malkia said, ‘I actually feel better after talking to you.‘  Malkia got lost in her own thoughts for a moment, and I realized that she had more questions, but wasn’t sure if she should ask them.  I couldn’t blame her, since I wasn’t always forthcoming with my answers.  ‘When are we going to meet?  You said that one day we would be able to meet each other, but years have gone by and you still keep your distance.  For a long time I thought you were nothing but a fragment of my imagination.

The time for us to meet is approaching.  There are a lot of things going on in the world, and that means that our chance to meet is coming.  Again, I’m sorry that we haven’t had the chance to meet face to face before now, but there is a reason for that.

‘I will trust you, for now,’ Malkia said, ‘but I hope that the next time we talk to each other, it will be face to face,’ she asked, in part as a request, but in part as a threat.

‘Maybe, or maybe not, you are about to get some surprises, and I hope you can see how much I love you once you get them, and that you can see that no matter the circumstances, you are always in my thoughts.’

‘Again with the riddles,’ Malkia’s astral representation smiled a last time before starting to dissolve.

‘Thinks will become clearer, sooner than you think,’ I told the air, as Malkia was already gone.

Malkia wanted to see me, but it wasn’t our time yet, but Kimball would get to see her soon, which would likely give her more questions than answers, but that would give her some explanations.  I knew, even if I didn’t fully understand, that Kimball had always seen Malkia as a daughter, and that he would give his own life for her, just like he would for Ethan or Greca.  Greca was also going to get a big surprise once Kimball arrived to her clan, and I wondered how long would it take her to realize who he really was to her.  Mzansi’s rules stopped him from interfering or revealing any information to her, but I knew Kimball didn’t mind ignoring those rules when he needed to, like what he had done when Malkia needed him, I also knew that it would be proud and honored if Greca managed to guess by herself who he was.

There were so many things to be done, and so little time.  I got out of the astral planes and went back to my body, and I found it being held in Kimball’s arms.  I felt more calm and confident about the future, and I went to sleep, hoping to get some rest so I could be ready to face a new day.

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.”

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.