I spent as much time with my children as I dared. I really didn’t even have time to spare. Some of the girls remained with me as I made sure to hold each daughter and son. The two oldest were at an age they could speak, but they were too sleepy that even after pointing out that their father was home, they could only groggily smile before slipping off back to bed. They were apparently quite the lazy little girls. After this, I’d definitely take them out to play more so they didn’t end up like their aunts Hannah and Madison.
As I thought about it, I looked up at the two girls. Hannah was lying on the couch with her feet over the edge hanging off. Madison was sitting in the corner listening to a movie with her portable screen. The two girls seemed to notice me smiling at them and looked up.
“I think Brother is thinking something rude about us!” Hannah declared.
“Mm… Brother seems to need to remember to respect his elder sisters.”
I coughed to cover up my expression. “What are you saying? I was only thinking you girls are very beautiful and also I love you.”
I chose that moment to pick up the baby which didn’t have the same sleep schedule as her older siblings and then start kissing her on the stomach while she made happy babbling sounds. The older women, Mako and Rose predominately, seemed to watch this with a certain degree of delight. I felt I had to call them out in the same way I was called out earlier.
“What is it?” I asked.
The pair looked at each other and giggled and Rose spoke up. “I had forgotten how much of a loving father you are. I could watch you play with the children forever.”
Other than those four, the others weren’t in the room. Lilith had departed to get some privacy and relax in a guest room. Mia had returned to the room she once had. The pair of them had been around me recently, so they wanted me to have time with the rest of my family. Well, Mia did at least. Lilith was likely just apathetic to the whole situation. Brooke also returned to her room. I wanted to give it time. Given everything we had been through, the least I could give her was time.
Aiko was much more reserved. She was in the kitchen right now, feeling that my time with the children should be personal and alone. Kemala was at the door, hiding behind it, but occasionally peaking with interest at the baby. I wasn’t sure if she had seen a baby since she’s grown up. Caleb’s royal children weren’t technically his, so she was probably kept away from them when she was young. Considering that having babies was her primary function in the Mataharin hierarchy, it stood to reason she’d have a great interest in them for one reason or another.
Looking down at the baby in my hands, I didn’t even know which it was. I had missed a great deal of time with them because of various reasons, and so I didn’t even recognize them. I didn’t want to have to leave again.
“Hey, baby… I’m going to be back.” I promised. “I won’t be leaving you again. However, first I must bring back your brothers and sisters, okay? You want a big family right?”
Of course, the baby didn’t know what I was saying, but thanks to the happy way I said it, she giggled and then her hand went and hit my nose, not quite successfully grabbing it. I grabbed her tiny hand, kissed it, and then pulled it away and kissed her forehead as well. I had wasted enough time.
“I’m going then.”
The words were like a dagger through the atmosphere. Rose and Mako’s faces turned to frowns. Madison pulled off her headphones and stood up. Hannah spun and looked at me with a worried expression. They all already understood though. I had already explained myself to them. They accepted it.
This was a trip that I had to make alone. I had already lost too much in the past, and I was unwilling to do it again. To be honest, I was a bit surprised that Brooke didn’t put up more of a fight. In the end, I worried she had experienced too much in Matahari. She was perhaps still haunted by what happened in the Demon Lord’s castle to this day. Not just the castle, but the slavery and thinking I had died as well. She was a strong woman and had never shown me her stress or her worry, but I was still convinced that deep down she had experienced some trauma, just as I had.
I got in the back of the car, with all of the girls watching me worriedly. Those that were in their rooms seemed to have some awareness and they immediately went outside to watch too. Some of the girls cried, some waved, and a few simply watched silently. The door on the other side of the vehicle opened, and Mako immediately stepped in, sitting down next to me. I glanced over at her with a questioning expression, and she gave a small shrug.
“What did you expect? You’re not going up there alone. Although I agree, you shouldn’t be in any real danger. You have no connection to these dangerous people from Matahari anymore and you’re a man during a peace talk discussing the protection of men. You even said the person who assassinated you is now dead. I’m here to make sure that you don’t do anything dangerous.”
“Mako…” I said, feeling uneasy.
“That pass I got is for me and one other. Unless you want to start cross-dressing again, I suggest you let me go.”
So, much for traveling alone. I sighed and then nodded. It seemed like the other girls had already decided on this. The expression on their faces were that they were expecting Mako to come along.
“I don’t want you to get hurt,” I said.
“I don’t want you to be hurt either,” Mako responded with a wry smile.
“You can get me into the island, but I want you to wait. I don’t want to pull you into this. As a man, I get a lot of exemptions. For you, it could be truly disastrous.” I tried to explain.
“Okay.” She responded simply. “I’ll wait for you.”
Her words instantly made me feel a lot better. I really didn’t want to do all of this on my own, despite what I planned. Even though she wouldn’t be with me, having her support helped. She was unique to all of the women in my life because we had formed the Lilith contract. I wasn’t sure how the real Lilith would feel about that contract named after her, but the result was that her soul was bound to mine. If anyone knew how I was feeling, it would be her. Furthermore, Mako was an adult, a citizen, and a government employee, not to mention skilled with first aid. I supposed if there was anyone, I wanted to take with me, it would be her.
The car left, the group of women who had become my family as well as the home I had grown up in was left behind. I didn’t know why I had such a foreboding feeling about it. Perhaps it was because of those damn Male Protection Extended Act laws. I was going up to the island exactly to prevent them from happening.
We reached a trolley that allowed us to head up to the island. I had no weapon or protection of any kind. In a world with magic, naturally, even runes were confiscated. I could draw more, except that they confiscated even pens and paper to prevent that kind of act. On top of that, there were runes on the trolley designed to interfere with the cast of runes. That part mattered less to me. I only wanted to use the runes on the island in the case of an emergency.
We made it through security without a problem. I had worried that as soon as my information was entered, there would be some shocking revelations. After all, I was supposed to be dead. However, some alarm didn’t suddenly set off with a flood of people swarming in to grab and secure me. Although the security was shocked to see a man, it didn’t seem that surprising. This was an event regarding all men, and any man would be interested in seeing the final debate that would either favor or lose the extended act.
Yeah, I had managed to grab a pamphlet that explained things. There were only two days left of this event. Tonight would be a final debate given for and against the extended protection act. Tomorrow, there would be a vote. Then the act will either be enforced or not enforced. Of course, it was up to every country to decided to what extent they would enforce it, but as Amaryllis introduced it, they would surely be the most savage in implementing their plans.
This meant that the Matahari councilmen, who were essentially the leaders of the male side of the debate, had to be there to illicit a counterargument. Supposedly, over the last week, they had been talking with various groups and gathering them to their side. If they were to suddenly die, it would assuredly be a massive blow to the male side of the vote, and likely result in it falling the other way.
We went on the trolley, which slowly began to rise in the air. This still took some getting used to but compared to flying on that giant tube rocket that I called an airplane, this was nothing. I wondered what Amaryllis was making of that accident right now. I hadn’t been watching the television, but assuredly if it was being announced throughout the city, we would have heard about it by now. I shook my head, concentrating on what was important.
“What is your plan?” Mako asked, watching me with a steady look.
“Simple.” I sighed. “I’m going to talk to Queen Talitha. She has no real power here, and the councilmen are looking to strip her of even that much. A man should have no difficulty approaching her. I’m going to reveal the identity of her daughter and explain what’s going on. Hopefully, she can use what little power she has left to let me know where the councilmen are right now, as well as find Charlie.”
I shook my head. “A girl that I brought with me from Matahari.”
I shook my head. “Young, and she was from Amaryllis at first. We’ve been together for a while. I feel bad about her life. I just want to give her a home is all.”
Mako made an uncertain face.
“What? What is it?” I asked.
Mako shook her head. “Nothing, it’s just, Brooke said that you’ve been under a lot of stress recently. She said you’ve been talking to yourself a lot. She doesn’t recall a little girl who traveled with you. Had she known about this girl, she said she would have made sure she brought her along.”
I blinked and then let out a chuckle. “I’m not the only one who has been through a lot of stress. I wouldn’t worry about it. She probably just forgot. The pair barely even talked to each other. It’s just a coping mechanism she has so she doesn’t feel regret.”
At that moment, there was a thump as we finally reached the trolley station at the top of the island. I got out of the building and looked out among the familiar landscape that I had explored barely a week ago.
“Are you really asking me to stay here?” Mako said uncertainly. “This isn’t going to turn into another day of WRATH situation, is it?”
I waved my hand, “That’s not going to happen. I’ll be back shortly, okay?”
She nodded and went to a nearby café that was situated near the trolley for people who had to wait. I nodded one last time, took a breath, and then started walking towards the residence the Matahari had been given. This was not going to be a situation like last time. I wasn’t Caleb. Even so, I felt a pain in my chest, not unlike the stabbing pains when Veronika killed me. It was just my mind running away with me.
I found myself in front of her mansion shortly. Reaching up, I knocked on the door. Of course, it was answered by a servant a few moments later. It was a Matahari servant, except that she wasn’t wearing the revealing clothing that the maid’s typically wore in Matahari. This was an outfit that better fit the Amaryllis style. It was probably done so as not to disturb our sensibilities. I gave her a smile, feeling a bit of nostalgia seeing a familiar face.
“Queen Talitha, I need to speak to her.
The girl jerked for a second, surprised to see a young man at the door of all things. She then made a second noise of surprise as she realized I was asking for the Queen. Upon reflection, a young man looking to visit a powerful woman in her home might actually create some questions. However, I couldn’t focus on those politics at the moment. I had a single job to do, and I needed to finish it for all men’s sake. As for the maid at the door, she looked down uncertainly.
“I’m sorry, the Queen isn’t seeing anyone right now. She is in mourning.”
I really didn’t know what the outcome of my death had been on the island. I had asked at home whether there was any news about it, and it appeared that what happened on this island stayed on this island. They hadn’t revealed anything to the public about any death, even though the death would definitely affect the nature of the upcoming votes.
“Tell her, I have information about Caleb,” I said with a weak breath. “Tell her, I know what happened to Kemala.”
The maid’s eyes widened. Thankfully, she knew enough about the situation to know the importance of my words. She nodded several times before turning and running back into the mansion with haste. As for me, I stayed outside, even as my heart continued to beat rapidly. I had never been the smoothest talker, so this could turn or horribly wrong if I worded things in the wrong way. However, I didn’t feel like I had any other choice. I had no other connections up here.
Talitha came into view, walking down the stairway. She was wearing all black and had a veil across her face. Her eyes, once a beautiful hazel, were rimmed with red and swollen from days of weeping. I felt a bit of guilt. I had left her with Caleb dead. Admittedly, the boy had died a long time before, but this death certainly had a bit more brutality to it than a poisoning and coma.
“What do you want, bule?” She demanded as soon as she came within speaking distance, a look as if she wanted nothing to do with me.
Her reaction dug at my heart more than I expected. She had been loving as a mother, and I had known her for quite a while. Even though I was a different person, having her look at me so scornfully was a bit painful. I gritted my teeth and pushed forward with my plan.
“Queen Talitha, your son was killed by his adopted daughter, Veronika. Kemala tried to stop it and even managed to kill Veronika, but it was too late to save his life.”
Her eyes turned fierce and she took several steps forward, grabbing my arms. “What do you know about it!”
“I know it was ordered by Caleb’s grandfather! He had Caleb killed for failing to produce children and the various other nasty things he had done to women over the years!”
Her hands squeezed, but her eyes glassed over and took on a lost expression. She began to shake her head desperately, even while still holding on to me.
“No… no… Caleb was a good boy… he didn’t… he just…”
“Talitha, Caleb tortured and killed people. He did awful things until the day he was poisoned. He…” I bit my lip, lowering my head.
“How… dare you…” She said, “What other vitriol do you have? Out with it!”
“He conspired with your daughter. The daughter you gave up when you decided to take him in and pretend he was your son!”
She gasped, taking a step back, her eyes narrowing as she released my arms. “How do you know about this?”
“I know… because Caleb knew!” I said. “Did you ever think the person who came back after the coma was your Caleb?”
At this point, she looked like she had been slapped. It was one blow after another. However, I couldn’t let up now.
“Your son died when he drank that poison those months ago,” I said. “And Lilith only used his body… to… to save me. I don’t need you to believe it. What I need is for you to help me stop your daughter from making a terrible mistake!”
She remained silent for a moment, taking in my words and choosing her question. “What mistake?”
“Terah… the girl in Caleb’s harem? Where is she?”
“Terah? Half of his harem suddenly scattered when he died. I have two of them in lockdown. Terra was one who slipped away. I haven’t seen Terah in days.”
“Terah is the little girl you gave away,” I explained. “She is working with a rebellious faction. They plan to murder your leaders, the councilmen. She will definitely do it before tonight!”
She shook her head. “Even if what you say is true, why should I stop this. This is the man who killed my… my Caleb,” Her eyes grew fierce, “If they took everything from me, then let them burn!”
“I’m not the Caleb you want any more,” I said. “But your daughter, she carries Caleb’s child. If she goes through with this, you won’t simply lose a daughter you never knew you had, you’ll also lose your grandson!”
Her eyes flashed. “It’s a boy?”
“I’m not like other men. Some call me chosen. I have a 50% chance of making a male baby.”
“There is still Bernice…” She said, “I have her and the girl Neriah. If I can find that Lyra girl…”
“Lyra won’t be returning. As for Bernice… that’s a 50% chance. Bernice and Terah, the chance is higher.” She bit her lip uncertainly, so I continued. “If the regime changes, your grandson may be killed in the upheaval. They will certainly never rise to power. Even if the councilmen don’t die, this will be happening. The only way you will be able to survive, is if you make peace with your daughter.”
I wanted to tell her she had to come home with me. However, upon seeing her here in black, I came to the realization. Amaryllis wasn’t her home. She would never be at home in my mansion. She was a Queen. She’d rather die in Matahari than live in Amaryllis. This reality was one I couldn’t refute in the slightest. Her nature couldn’t be more obvious to me. I suspected it was the same with her daughter.
Realizing this, my plan began to change. If I could bring these two together, then perhaps they’d make it out of it alive. As for her child which I bore, it was already as much as I could get to keep Lyra with me. There was no way Bernice or Terah would become mine. That was far too hopeful.
“You know…” Talitha said. “The official story is that Veronika was murdered because she was pregnant with a male child, right along with her father.”
“What I’m asking you to believe is too much, I know. You can ask me anything that has happened in the last six months to Caleb. The mines under the city, letting my sister free from jail, even the shape of your body… I will know it.”
A tear began to well on her eyes. “Is it really you?”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t stick with you until the end. I’m sorry I let him face such a grisly fate.”
She stepped forward and her lips found mine. We kissed for only a brief moment before she pulled back. Her eyes were closed and her lips moved soundlessly. After a moment, she nodded.
“Yes… that is the kiss. To think a little poison made my son a better kisser, how foolish.”
“So, you believe me?” I asked cautiously.
Her eyes popped open and she looked down at me the edge removed from her eyes, and strange feeling of longing overtaking it.
“You are him. Aren’t you?”
I laughed, scratching the back of my head. “It doesn’t really matter, in the end.”
She blinked and then nodded. “That’s right, you are a bule now. You lack the princely blood of my son.”
In a place like Matahari, they definitely would believe in bloodlines. In that respect, there was no way I would fit anymore. She may have feelings for me, but I was now just a foreign male with no particular attachment to her. That put a wall between us that could never be torn down with wishful desires and thinking.
“Let’s protect your son’s remaining bloodline.” I offered.
She nodded. “What do you need me to do?”