“I need to know where the councilmen will be meeting people today. There has to be a place where they might be vulnerable.”
Talitha tapped her finger thoughtfully. “They enjoy being outdoors on the lakeside gazebo. They typically have a lot of their meetings there while basking under the sun with a cold glass of tea. It seriously angers me thinking those men plotted the death of my son so casually like that.”
“You can get your vengeance later. However, the act that is being voted for tomorrow, they need to be alive for it. That act will destroy the rights of all males, including your son. It may seem like the best option in light of your… my… Caleb’s death, but don’t allow those emotions to overrule you. I have some experience with this kind of thing. It can’t be allowed to become a reality.”
It was hard to voice my concerns, especially to someone who was least likely to be affected by them. Matahari was an independent country, and even if this act did pass, they could refuse to acknowledge it. The councilmen certainly would. However, this would also give the women in Matahari an excuse to rise up. There would be constant international pressure on the government. Essentially, it would allow the current rebellion to move forward with ease. However, the new government that followed would almost assuredly be a strict matriarchy. As for the men, they may even experience a culling, not unlike the Day of WRATH.
Of course, explaining this outcome to a woman who hasn’t seen it was difficult. This wasn’t just a world with all women, it was a world with one language and one universal enemy. The demons were a clear enemy in the eyes of all of the women, and when demons couldn’t be blamed, men were. Throughout earth’s history, there were so many cultures and people, that the squabbles were nonstop. We had life lessons like the holocaust and women’s suffrage. Even though we still suffered and struggled, I’d like to think most people from Earth could spot something that was such a blanket violation of human rights.
This world hadn’t had those lessons, and thus it was ripe for being conquered by a totalitarian regime. It was a slippery slope that this entire world was on the verge of tumbling down, one the demons could only take advantage of. It was also something I struggled to voice into words for this world without sounding like a crazy nut. Well, that wasn’t a problem I needed to face as long as these bastards served and did their job.
After a few minutes of waiting, Talitha finally came out. There were two women in veils who appeared to be guards. I glanced over at them nervously. The fewer people involved with this; the better things would go. I wanted to prevent a disaster, not create one.
“These two women are loyal to me completely,” Talitha said as she noticed the expression on my face.
I responded with a nod, and the group of us turned to leave. I allowed Talitha to lead the way, although I knew just as well as she did where the gazebo was that she spoke about. Given the design of the central lake, it could actually be seen from the front door, although they were too distant to make out any details. As we walked down towards the shore of the lake, Talitha gestured to her soldiers.
“You two, search for any area along the lake that has a place to hide. If she plans to do something, it should be within clear sight of the gazebo!”
The two women nodded and then ran off. As for me, I was scanning the shore carefully, trying to think about where she might be. Talitha had her arms crossed with a frown on her face as she surveyed the lake before her. I sighed and decided that I had to speak up.
“You and Terah, your own daughter, did you really give her away and then take Caleb from another family?”
“Is that what you were told?” She said with a startled expression on her face.
“That is what Terah believes,” I explained.
A flash of regret appeared on Talitha’s face. “That… it wasn’t like that at all.”
Talitha bit her lip, a distant look in her eyes before she finally spoke. “A long time ago, when I was just a young girl, a deal was struck between my father and Caleb’s grandfather. It guaranteed that I would be the Queen. The plan initially if I failed to produce a male was to swap out the child with a second male produced by either my father-in-law or my husband. They both slept around profusely with many women and created many offspring. They successfully create a male during this time, thus, when I was only ten, I was given over to my husband. However, despite hormones and various other treatments, I was unable to get pregnant. Eventually, the period when it was believable passed.
“My grandfather… strangled that male baby, for fear it would only complicate things. He made me watch so that I understood my own failure. I became pregnant only three years later, but it was with a female. Naturally, grandfather and husband were unable to create another offspring in time. The only other option was to find a commoner male and silence the mother.
“Of course, I wasn’t told about this. I thought I would be given a second chance to have a baby. So, when my daughter was born, they took her away, only to put a strange male baby of two months old in my arms. That doesn’t mean I’m without guilt. I was complicit in this. It meant that Husband would stop abusing me in bed, and leave to join his father. It meant I would become the queen.”
“What about Kemala?” I asked.
“I was… sad that I had lost my daughter. So, when I found out I was pregnant with Kemala, I was ecstatic to keep her. Father-in-law wanted her to be killed. I had to fight a great deal to keep her from being harmed. You said that she is safe?”
I nodded, feeling a bit of pain as I listened to the story she had been through. There was a look in her eyes when she mentioned finding out she was pregnant. I wanted to ask, but I feared the answer. I shook my head, deciding I needed to know everything.
“If your husband and you had already parted after my birth, how did you become pregnant with Kemala?” I asked.
She lowered her head, slight tears in her eyes. “He… father-in-law… after husband got bored with me, he’d sometimes visit the palace because he was bored. He’d visit the palace to rape me. That is how Kemala came to be, as well as why he wanted Kemala killed. He was violent about it, and he did it… in front of Caleb. That was how I knew you were different. You don’t look at me like Caleb looked at me. You don’t look at me like a woman you’ve seen being hit and beaten and ejaculated on and in. When he was in a happy mood, he’d let Caleb hit me with his cane.”
“My only success had been keeping Kemala from receiving the same fate. I was tough on her, but I managed to convince both my son and husband that her virginity was not to be touched. I used every trick and lie in the book to keep her pure. Even throwing her in jail had been an attempt to keep Caleb from having her. The real Caleb would have forgotten about her as soon as she was out of his sight. Once he made a male, I’d eventually have freed her.
“Imagine my shock and dismay when you suddenly demanded her release. I was convinced my daughter would be dead by the next day. Yet, you treated her so kindly. I couldn’t stop breaking into tears of relief. I tried to make you focus on me, but once I had you, I realized you were not the same man. You weren’t him.”
I reached out and grabbed her hand, “Talitha…”
She pulled her hand away, wiping her cheeks. “It’s in the past. I never blamed Caleb. I tried to help. I raised him the best I could. I tried to be strict hoping I could control his tendencies. I was overjoyed when I found that he had become you. Now, I know it was just a cosmic accident. Of course… a woman like me could never have raised a man like you. It seems, so obvious, now that I reflect on these last few months. They’ve been like a dream.”
“I’m sorry… had I known…” I bit my lip.
What would have been different? Even though I knew a fraction of the reason why Caleb had turned out as twisted as he did, there was nothing I could have done. At the time, I had to remain anonymous. I understood why she hated the Grandfather so much and didn’t mind his death. It only made it more frustrating that he had to remain alive.
“Those men deserve death. What my daughter is doing? It is proper retribution. The only problem is me. I should be there on the gazebo too. I should die right alongside those men.”
My eyes widened for a second and I turned to her. “What did you say?”
She shot me an exasperated look. “I said those men deserve death.”
“No… I mean… you… the gazebo…” My eyes shot to the gazebo.
It was a distance off, but I could just make it out. It was a large wooden thing sitting just at the edge of the water. Since the ground sloped down into the lake, the area adjacent to the lake had a long tall rise, which was partially covered in various water reeds and weeds. The realization started to dawn on me.
“Terah… she never planned to survive the assassination attempt.” I said. “You said it yourself, this is a retribution. She wants to start a revolution, and that demands sacrifice.”
“What are you saying?” Talitha demanded.
“Your daughter isn’t hiding around the gazebo, she’s inside it! She under their feet with a ton of explosives and a trigger!”
Talitha gasped as I made my declaration, but I was already running. Terah hadn’t triggered anything yet, but I only learned why as I ran closer. There was a woman whom the two men were chatting with at the moment, and she had brought along a small child who was running around the gazebo. I slowed down as I grew closer to the gazebo. If I alert the men, she might blow it anyway and accept the sacrifice. I had to get under the gazebo without being seen by the people there.
Looking at a group of reeds along the shore, I grabbed and broke a wide one. Blowing through it, I checked the airflow. With a nod, I pulled off my shoes and then carefully slid into the water. At this point, Talitha had reached me.
“What are you doing?” She demanded.
“If we don’t do something now, she is going to kill herself and that unborn baby! I have to get under there and stop her.”
Without waiting for another word, I carefully lowered myself in the water and then attempted to breathe through the tube. It was seriously more difficult than I thought it would be. I ended up coming up to the surface and coughing.
“You… you’re really going to do this… for them?” She demanded.
“I’m doing this for you!” I shot back, lowering myself back down a second time.
This time I managed to get the rhythm, and then began kicking my feet and swimming out in the direction of the gazebo. Seeing was difficult, so I mostly used the edge of the pond to swim around while keeping myself under the water. It took about fifteen minutes to work my way over to the gazebo. Only once I was hiding in the reeds at the foot of the gazebo did I finally poke my head out and take a breath. While keeping a careful eye on the people above me, I tried to make my way through the reeds without disturbing them.
I heard a gasp behind me and I looked back to see Talitha emerging from the water. My mouth fell open and I mouthed the words ‘what are you doing here?’. She shook her head and gestured for me to keep going, even while wearing an unhappy expression on her face. I sighed and turned back, continuing to work my way through the reeds. When I finally made it to the foot of the gazebo, I was glad to see a small hole that I could just manage to squeeze through.
“Well, this has been an informative talk,” a female voice above me spoke. “I’ll think about what you said.”
‘Do that.” The men started to say their farewells.
That meant she’d be pulling the trigger soon. I immediately pushed my way into the gazebo. My eyes shot around, and there, sitting in the corner was Terah, curled up in a ball. She noticed the movement and looked up. Her eyes immediately widened.
“Terah… you need to stop.” I whispered immediately. “You can’t take yourself out with them. It’s not right!”
Her eyes quickly narrowed, and then she pulled out a trigger. As my eyes adjusted, I could see that it ran to a barrel of compressed gunpowder. The trigger wasn’t electrical at all. It was actually a piece of paper with a rune on it. A matching rune was physically on the barrel.
Talitha pushed herself inside the gazebo behind me. As soon as she flopped out of the water like a gutted fish, Terah’s eyes flashed to her. As soon as she recognized the face, a fury exploded from her. I could feel a tingling in my arms as she started to channel her chakra. I cursed, taking a leap forward and grabbing her before she could finish. My lips pressed against hers and my chakra points blocked her in a procedure I had grown very used to doing.
She let out a noise of surprise, but I kept her magical ability restrained until I could pull the rune from her hands. Only when I had the paper did I finally pull back. She took an angry swing at me but I managed to dodge.
“Who are…” She touched her lips with surprise on her face. “Caleb?”
“Why can the both of you figure out who I am with just a kiss?” I responded helplessly. “It’s really a mother-daughter trait, isn’t it?”
“You’re really him?” She hissed in quiet disbelief, “How is that possible? No, what are you doing here? Why are you stopping me!”
“You’re trying to kill yourself! You’re trying to kill the baby I put in you.”
“It’s a worthy cause!” Terah snarled back. “I am making a sacrifice for the greater good. Do you think they’ll let me walk out of here after I kill those councilmen? No, my baby and I are better off dead.”
“That isn’t true…” Talitha stepped forward.
“You… what do you know of it?” She snapped at Talitha.
“I’m your mother.” Talitha said, “That is my grandchild. I won’t allow my daughter to sacrifice herself for anything!”
Terah didn’t seem shocked that Talitha knew her identity. Rather, she had an indignant and unhappy expression on her face.
“Talitha… tell her the truth. Tell her what you told me.”
“Tell me what?” Terah demanded.
“Terah… I never gave you up. They, those men… they took you away from me. I spent years hating myself for losing you, but they hid all records and I was not able to find out what happened to you. I… have… always loved you.”
Terah looked down, her body shaking slightly. “That’s all the more reason I need to kill them here. If we cut off the head, everyone else will have a chance.”
Talitha shook her head. “I want them dead more than anyone, but this isn’t the way. You can’t be the one to kill them here.”
“Because I can’t lose you again!’ Talitha broke into tears this time, her soft sobs filling the room under the gazebo. “I can’t lose anyone else. So, please… just come with me.”
“What… what do you want me to do?”
“That child in your belly, it will protect you,” Talitha explained. “Let’s go back the Matahari. We can plan with your rebellion. I have many soldiers in the palace that will follow me. If you allow me some trust, I can help you plan a more successful attack. We can destroy them where they live. I know the council hall like the back of my hand. With both of us working together, we can bring down this institution, and create a new one. One we’d be proud of. One… where your son can grow up safe.”
As she said this, she touched Terah’s belly lightly. Terah reached out, her hand shaking nervously, as she grabbed her mom’s hand in return. The two women came together and embraced. Both of them were crying now. Meanwhile, I was standing on the side, smiling awkwardly as I felt apart from the conversation.
“O-okay, I’ll follow you,” Terah said.
“For now, the pair of us will go back to the mansion where we are safe,” Talitha explained. “After we’ve had some time to warm up, then we can discuss… everything.”
Talitha smiled for the first time that I had seen not aimed at Caleb. It put a strange feeling in my heart. When both girls suddenly turned to me, it caught me off guard.
“Caleb… I mean… Clyburn.” Talitha smiled.
“You know my name?”
“You’re the face of the extended male protection act. I’ve seen your name and face brought up countless times over the last week. This is one reason I chose to believe what you said. According to your government, you are absolutely dead. Since I already had to accept that a dead person came back to life, it was easier to commit to the idea that you were also once Caleb.”
“Ah, I guess that’s true.”
“In which case, we will be parting here, won’t we?” She asked.
I smiled wryly. “I’m a ghost, right? Perhaps it is best if I just go back to my mansion and remain dead to the world. No monthly restrictions. No shameless pandering. This would probably be the best use of my time. I can just stay at home and raise my children.”
“I’m sorry, I’ll be taking two of them.” She said gently.
“Mm… please, treat them properly. Don’t let anyone touch them or hurt them.”
“I will, and if there is ever a time you aren’t dead and wish to return to Matahari, I will welcome you.”
Terah glanced over at me and nodded. “Mm… I will not forget what you have done here today. If you ever need anything, you can count on me.”
“Okay.” I nodded, feeling a bit sad myself. “In that case, I’ll clean up here. You guys go first, and try not to make any noise.”
The two women final broke their hug and then turned to the hole that led to the way out. As for me, I let out a slow breath and then leaned back down. I had done it. I had stopped their assassination. The revolution would still occur, but it’d be done not through the chaos and governmental collapse, but a planned takeover using the resources of two powerful and intelligent women. As for me, I was still dead. If I could sneak out of here without being seen by too many people, then I could return to being dead. The government had no more strings on me. I could raise my family in peace for the remainder of my life in this world. That was all I wanted.
Of course, I still wanted to experiment with magical runes. I could always use one of the girls as a proxy. Even that ambition to change the world could be accomplished from home. To be honest, I had already changed the world right here by helping keep the extended protection act from becoming a thing. I folded up the rune that I had taken from Terah carefully. Grabbing the keg of gunpowder, my plan was pretty simple. I was just going to dump it in the water and let it disperse that way.
Just as I went to turn it over, I realized there was a small person standing right in front of the hole.
“Hello, husband!” A small girl in a cat mask waved excitedly.
As soon as I said her name, she giggled and sprinted to the side of the gazebo. With a curse under my breath, I followed her outside. Had she been drawn to the other little girl playing here? Why did she have to show up now? Either way, I didn’t want to be caught with the gunpowder. I found myself leaving it untouched as I followed her.
Very carefully, I snuck along the side of the gazebo, making sure to stay out of sight of the two men above. It appeared like the woman and her child had left. I frowned as I looked around, but I didn’t see where Charlie had darted off to.
“Rawr!” A sudden sound appeared right next to me.
I stumbled before reaching out and grabbing her mouth, keeping Charlie from speaking.
“Charlie!” I hissed under my breath. “What are you doing here? We need to be quiet so they don’t hear us!”
I finally removed my hand while putting my other finger up to my mouth in a hushing motion. Charlie didn’t seem upset. Rather, she seemed amused. It was only at that point I looked at my fingers. I reached out and patted her head softly, and then let out a breath of relief. Of course, Charlie was real. For a brief moment, I had let Brooke’s confusion convince me I was somehow seeing a delusion.
“Hubby, what are you doing here?” Charlie asked quietly, as she turned to peak at the two men on the gazebo.
“I was just leaving. Will you come with me?” I asked.
“I’m always with you!” She responded, giggling, but then glanced up at the men. “But I don’t think you’re ready to leave, just yet.”
I blinked, “What is that supposed to mean?”
“So, have you prepared the travels home?” Davont suddenly spoke up above.
“Mm…” Caleb’s Grandfather said. “I’ve organized everything. We have a meeting that will delay our trip. Talitha and that left-over harem will all be on their own airship. It will be a shame they will never make the journey.”
I froze, my eyes rising up to the gazebo.
“It’s a shame. I heard that the useless Caleb did, in fact, start impregnating women.” Davont said almost too casually.
“The second Caleb was removed; those women became useless to my plans. Talitha has been an annoyance in my side for years. I will destroy her, and all of the spawn from that son of hers. It’s a simple business.”
“What will your boy think?”
“He does what I tell him to do. The reason he didn’t come on this journey is that he was too weak-spirited to watch them all die. Well, at least he’s too complacent to oppose me. Although this is a good opportunity to clean up, I don’t think we’ll need to arrange his death as well. Just the guards and maids who all work in the castle. Anyone who has had contact with Talitha could be problematic.”
“Mm… I had heard words of rebellion lately. Damn that imbecilic woman. We’ll squash them quickly, as we always do. Whatever side this ridiculous debate falls on, Matahari will always be Matahari.”
They continued to speak, but I could no longer hear them. All I could hear was the blood rushing to my head. I had saved their lives. I had kept them from being blown up. I had done everything I could, and they were just going to murder everyone and get away with it. Talitha and Terah would die. My children would die. Even Neriah who had done nothing wrong would end up dying. I wanted to scream.
“You know what to do.” A voice down below said, causing me to glance down.
Charlie was standing in front of me, and she had a finger pointed at my pocket. I reached in and my hands touched paper. Pulling it out and unfolding it, I could see the rune I had just put away. It was the trigger signal for the gazebo. At this distance, it should just work. As for my issues as an aseeded, the rune required a few alterations, but since the Demon King’s knowledge had been downloaded into my mind, it was rather simple for me to make the adjustments. In short, I could blow them up with ease.
However, if I did it, then there was no going back. I would have destroyed the only shot we had at stopping the extended protection act. No, there had to be another way.
“Do it!” Charlie demanded.
A thought suddenly occurred to me as I glanced at the little girl. “I’m not… rather… I should be dead.”
I was no longer Caleb! It was Clyburn. Yet, she hadn’t reacted at all to running into me. She still called me her husband. Before, I had thought that there was some kind of mental thing where she was using husband and clinging to any male. It didn’t matter that I was Caleb or Clyburn, as long as there was a male to cling to. However, she should still have at least some awareness that Caleb was dead, and a boy who should be dead was now alive!
“I should be dead too.” She responded, “After all, didn’t you kill me?”
I took a step back, “What?’
She reached up and pulled off the mask. Behind it was a hideous burn that had ruined half of her face. The red fierce scars snaked out across her forehead and cheek, and there were a few spots absent of hair.
“They call me the burned girl, you know?”
“What… what are you?” I choked, my entire body feeling sick.
“Hubby, you’ll hurt my feelings if you say things like that.”
“I saw your face, it wasn’t burned. When I was Caleb! The prince? When I had a different face, you were different!”
She smiled. “We all wear different faces for the occasion. Masks are easy to put on and remove. You should be aware of this more than anyone.”
“Are you a demon?” I responded.”
She let out a laugh. “I wonder…”
“What are you?” I demanded, only realizing I spoke too loudly when it was too late.
“Huh? Who is that?” I saw two men suddenly look over the gazebo at me. “You down there, what are you doing? Spying on us?”
Their eyes were directly on me. I didn’t see them even flutter in the direction of the girl in front of me.
“Uh, oh… you’re out of time.” Charlie laughed. “It’s time to make a decision, isn’t it?”
“Why are you here? What do you want?”
“What are you on about?” Caleb’s grandfather said, “I’m calling security!”
“It doesn’t matter what I want.” Charlie shrugged. “This is about you. You’re out of time. Burn or no burn. You have to choose.”
“We’re too close,” I said, shaking my head.
The two men were starting to leave the gazebo. If I didn’t activate the rune, then Talitha and Terah who I just saved would be dead. Two of my children would die. However, the extended act… the rights of all men…
“Then… I guess we’ll have to burn again as we burned before. You remember, right? With the boiler? It all comes around. Burn or no burn! Burn or no burn! Burn or no burn!” she began to chant, her words seeming to echo despite the open environment we were in.”
“Fuck it!” I screamed, slamming my hand on the rune. “Fuck it all!”
A surge of power erupted through the rune I formed in my mind. A second later, the gazebo exploded. The two men on top of it hadn’t even made it to the first stairway, and they were immediately swept up in the explosion. The world seemed to move in slow motion. A fireball erupted out. The scar-faced Charlie stood smiling at me as the fire wrapped around her. The shockwave struck me and I went flying back.
The world spun around me for a few moments followed by the cold splash of water. This was immediately followed by darkness.