Kratia screamed in rage and struck at the stone wall, hard enough to bloody her knuckles. “How dare the Crystal let her leave!” she screamed, striking the wall of her office again. “How dare Billy dismiss the Elf without my permission!” She struck the stone again, harder, and the crack of her breaking bones was accompanied by a wave of pain that surged from her hand to her shoulder.
Muttering a curse, she concentrated on a simple healing spell only to find herself unable to actuate it through the throbbing pain. She stomped across the room to her desk and yanked open the top drawer with her good left hand. She rummaged through it, cursing intensely as she threw unwanted papers, pens, and mementos to the floor.
At last she found a vial of tablets, and pulled the stopper out of the bottle with her teeth. She spat it to the floor and tipped the open bottle to her lips, shaking in several of the pills.
In a few seconds, the powerful opiates had erased the pain, and Kratia initiated on the healing spell, and promptly ridded her system of the drugs before they ruined her concentration. “I’ll get you for this!” she muttered.
Kratia jumped at the sharp crack of thunder that exploded just outside the window. From out of a clear, sunlit day it shook the castle with its power. Kratia paled, realizing that she had spoken before her healing spell had fully ended. The thunder had been a warning. Had anyone else been listening, it may have proven a fatal blunder. Kratia deliberately set aside her anger and took several deep, slow breaths. There would be opportunity for expression of anger later. Indeed, she would punish the Crystal itself for trying to stop her.
But for now she needed a cool, calculating mind. The loss of the Elf was a minor inconvenience. True, she could no longer provide direct supervision of the quest, but she could continue to monitor Billy and Drake periodically through the sensiball. Perhaps it would be even better this way.
It was draining to maintain consciousness in two bodies, especially trying to handle both bodies simultaneously. Soon she would need all her wits about her. At least the programming and sex sessions with Nikademos were over. He was now almost as much a puppet as Loellen had been, and all due to her skills of mind and magic, without benefit of the Crystal.
She cast the spell that turned a section of her wall into a curtain of mist, and walked through it into the narrow passage that led to her inner sanctum. The wall resolidified behind her. In a few steps the walls turned white and she lost her sense of magic. A few steps up a narrow stairway and she was there.
She moved to the sensiball; it could not be activated here, but she needed to talk with father. What was left of father. She picked it up and returned to her room.
As soon as it was outside of the white crystal walls the sensiball began to glow. She placed the sphere upon her desk and placed both hands upon the surface.
“Hello, Kratia. You look lovely,” came the warm baritone voice from inside the sphere. “Is the plan proceeding well?”
Kratia shivered. Hearing her father speak always made her tingle. Such a great man, wise, loving but firm. “Yes, father. The plan goes well. Soon you will be avenged. Then we can find you a body and you can return in the flesh.”
“Yes. Soon. But why have you awakened me, Kratia? Any exposure is dangerous; if the Circle were to detect my existence, they would spare no effort to find and destroy me. You, too, precious one.”
“In a few days the ninja will be ready to complete his mission. I now have need to know the details of the Crystal. How it’s designed. How the Strictures are programmed and how to alter them. The nature of the Crystal’s defenses and how to defeat them.”
“My memories are open to you, daughter. Proceed.”
Kratia merged her mind with the sensiball. She could not touch the consciousness of her father directly, but she could get to a vast pool of his memories. In seconds she found and extracted the information that she needed.
“Give the information to Takashema,” said the voice of Murgorath. “Then purge it from your own mind. You cannot risk anyone discovering that you have such knowledge. It is a death sentence.”
“I will do as you command, father,” Kratia said. “I will fulfill your dreams. I will destroy your murderers and bring you back.”
“You will indeed. Now return me to the sanctum.”
Kratia returned the sensiball to the hidden chamber, noting how it dimmed the moment it was cut off from the magic force.
She did love her father, with the same intensity that she hated her enemies. Murgorath had never abandoned her. He had never hurt her. Had never lied to her. He had changed her, giving her the gift of magic, teaching her how to use it. He had praised her. Kratia loved him. But there were limits.
Oh, she would provide a body for him. But a body that lacked any capacity for using magic. He would not like it, so she kept that detail of her plan secret. If her father had any flaw at all, it was his lust for power. Not that lust was a bad thing in and of itself. After all, she had it too. The lust for power was only a flaw in those who were not destined to rule. Murgorath’s time was over. She would honor her father, but she would be the ruler of Salmineria. Murgorath couldn’t rule without his awesome magic. Of course, such magic wouldn’t go to waste. Most of his spells were now in her own memory. It would be her awesome power that made people bow down in fear and supplication.
Kratia let her mind wander again. She could hear thousands, tens of thousands, millions of people chanting ‘Long live Kratia, Lord and Empress of all Salmineria!’
She shook off the vision. She had work to do if that was ever going to come to pass. She grabbed the box with the demon sword and returned to her office.
“Sarral!” she called out, physically and mentally.
Within seconds there was the answering voice at the door.
“Sarral, there is a minor change of plans. You will not be required to impersonate Nexus after all.”
“I had wondered about that. I saw the modifications that you made to Nikademos.”
“What is your assessment of the modifications?”
“I could detect no deviations, Lord. But there was no Crow. Will that be a later addition?”
“No. I don’t think we need to bother about that. What was his physical status, Sarral?”
Sarral raised an eyebrow, then continued. “Still sedated, as you ordered. I have guards at his bedside should he awaken unexpectedly. Though I think you so exhausted him sexually that he didn’t need the medication.”
Kratia grinned. “Excellent. I will be leaving with him quite soon, I expect. What news of Mileu and Condeu?”
“The initial confusion is rapidly escalating into increasingly hostile accusations and denials on both sides. Three Mileu soldiers were beaten rather severely in Fengorus, and the mayors of the twin cities are each threatening to close their gates and call in their Esaf’s troops.”
“Wonderful! What about the economy?”
“The withdrawal of your various holdings is adding fuel to the rumors being spread by my contacts. Our agents put up such a fuss about getting their withdrawals that the banks were forced to give in or risk immediate loss of public confidence; only now are the banks realizing just how precarious the economy has become.”
“And the hit teams?”
“The two staff wizards were eliminated immediately. Anaso died last night, apparent suicide as you commanded. The final target will take longer; Icon is a formidable opponent and the team will only get one chance. By the end of the week, I think you will be rid of him.”
“That’s longer than I want to wait.”
“The schedule is up to you of course, Lord Kratia. I set the dates based on optimal probability of success, given the facts at my disposal. You have facts that I am not privileged to share, and these may no doubt alter the optimal schedule.”
“Sarral, you sound almost petulant! Don’t take it so personally!” Kratia patted him on the shoulder. “Keep the schedule optimal as you see fit; just don’t delay unnecessarily. Any calls from the Circle?”
“There may be one soon. Monitor incoming communications for me. I may be busy.”
“Yes my Lord.”
“That’s all for now.” Sarral turned and started to leave. “Oh, one more thing. Have Messick send a contingent to Bors Pass. Dress them as peasants; refugees from towns attacked by the Rauders. If the Proconsul sends any troops to the garrison there, I want some mutual friction and harassment. And make sure word of it to gets back to the Esaf.”
“It will be done, Lord.”
Sarral left, and Kratia walked over to the window. The sky had dimmed to a particularly dark night, the moon having waned to a thin crescent blade. The normally faint Borealis was particularly vibrant and lively with its display of shifting colors. She thought of Nikademos, and his damn stars; it made her anger rise again. Well, he would be dealt with soon enough. She was glad that her plans with Nikademos had changed. She wanted to keep her chief of staff. Sarral was such a blessing to have around.
But now more work to do. She clutched her energy wands and spelled for telepathy. Her mind traveled quickly to the Rep cave many miles to the northeast. The Reps instantly noticed her presence, and awaited there orders. She was their leader, their God, though their only concept of god was that provided by Kratia. The hive listened to her, answered her questions. No, they had not found the small black bird. Each time they had approached any birds they had scattered. They were smaller, more agile. None could be caught.
The Reps felt her disappointment; and disappointment only – Kratia let no anger tinge her carefully controlled thoughts, so that no fear would creep into the Rep minds. The spell was fragile enough working over such a distance, and would not hold up under even a trace of fear.
The Reps were eager, almost desperate to please her, and yearned for some way to help their master close up this loose end. She was wise and powerful. She would give them the means to succeed in their task; a touch of magic. She radiated serenity, mentally sedating the potential fears of the hive. The strangeness of the spells she cast was recognized but caused neither pain nor fear. She was the leader; they must trust and follow her commands. Kratia broadcast calmly and clearly, and began weaving twisting the communication spell into something quite different.
In a few seconds the Reps saw each other not as Reps, but as crows. Only when they were within inches of one another, or the cave wall, or of any solid object did the illusion break to reveal the talons and leathery wings of the true beasts. Kratia told them this, and helped them positioned themselves a few feet apart as they belched forth again from their dark lair, in search of the elusive enemy.
She broke the spell, slumping with sudden fatigue against the sill. It was so exhausting, taking over the world.