Rho Lo Castra sat on the edge of the bed and stared into infinity in a hotel room in Lacey, Washington.
He was still dressed in his beige Victorian Ulster and turtleneck, brown trousers and black mosquito boots. His coat was unbuttoned but kept closed by a brown waist wrap under a leather belt with a belly-holstered pistol.
Khim sat next to him sobbing; her pink prom dress shimmered in the artificial light. Anje on the floor in front of him, their grandfather’s journal sat open on her lap. She dropped a handful of colored stones on the pages and studied them.
Anje looked up to Khim. “We need to stay on the run.”
“To where!” Khim said. “If mother can see everything and everywhere then she can easily find us.”
“Even if she didn’t have the Orb’s powers, she can still track us by our shared bloodline.” Anje looked to the stones. She shrugged. “She is our mother, after all.”
“Our only advantage,” Anje said. “Is that she still possesses a mortal brain. Our brains process things at a much slower rate than natural magic. The paradox might have made her all-powerful, but it’s too much for her brain to handle, all at once. It will take her time to learn how to use her powers. We need to find her before then. For now, we must keep ahead of mother until we find a way to save her.”
“What is she going to do?”
“If I was her,” Anje rubbed her chin. “And if I was truly evil…”
“Anje!” Khim shouted.
Anje looked up at Khim. “I can’t accept that either, but let’s suppose she is. Let’s supposed everything she is has been, is a lie and she has crossed the line. If I were her, I would divorce my body and become ethereal. Then she can tap into the full might of the Orb, merge with it and become one consciousness, which… would tear apart all realities.”
Khim arched an eyebrow. “There’s more than one?”
“Oh yeah,” Anje said. “Each with their own unique set of physics, rules and distinct differences.”
Rho made a gurgling sound from deep in his throat.
Khim looked at him. “How is father?”
Anje picked up the stones, muttered a few words in an alien tongue and dropped them. She studied them.
Anje bit her lip. “We… have a problem.”
“I’ll say,” Anna walked in the bedroom and set a .50-50 cartridge upright on the nightstand.
Khim made a face. “No one cares about your damn bullets right now, Anna!”
“Singular,” Anna said.
Khim eyed her. “Don’t you give a damn about anything? You shot mom, and now you’re going to let father die!”
“Guys,” Anje said.
“Mom would have killed us,” Anna said.
“Guys!” Anje repeated. They looked at her. “What about that bullet?”
“It’s the only one we have left.”
Khim said, “Don’t be ridiculous. Hull would never have given us only four bullets for the rifle.”
“We weren’t supposed to use the rifle,” Anna said,” We were only supposed to test it.” Anna turned to Anje, “We need a way to get to Hull.”
“That’s not important right now,” Anje said.
Anna gave her a look. “What is?”
Anna narrowed her eyes. “You said that soul thing would work.”
“It’s working,” Anna said. “A little too well.”
Anna and Khim gave her a look.
Anje bit her lip. “It’s… communing with father.”
Anna arched her eyebrow. “Communing?”
Khim leaned forward on the edge of the bed. “What are they discussing?”
Anje exhaled loudly. She took Rho’s hands in hers, closed her eyes, and began chanting. She suddenly stopped.
Khim leaned closer. “Anje Meuy?”
Anje turned to Khim, her eyes engulfed in bright white flame.
Khim’s eyes widened.
Anje shouted at her in a high-pitched, distorted voice. “Lass Amajeyan murdered me in cold blood, stole my powers and, finding them not enough to quench her thirst for power, ventured off on a fool’s quest to seek the Orb of Orthanos. I will bathe in her blood for this treachery!”
Khim got up and stepped away from the bed. “What the hell?!”
Anna waved Khim aside. She turned her attention back to Anje. “Identify yourself.”
Anje stared at Anna. “I am Ronarasai, the Imperial Steel Tiger, Warlord of Kaityr. You have given me the chance to seek vengeance not only for myself but for your father as well.” She bowed her head. “I thank you.”
“She’s our mother!” Khim shouted. “We will not allow you to kill her!”
Anje’s fiery eyes glared at Khim. “She is not who you think, child. Your loyalty is misplaced.”
“And what if we don’t back off?” Khim shrugged her broad shoulders and popped her knuckles. Her lace-gloved hand rubbed the scars on the knuckles of her bare hand.
“None of you will be harmed in any way, of this I swear,” Anje said. “But you will not stop me… or your father. That I will not allow.”
“Our father would never allow this,” Khim said.
“He would,” Anna said in a quiet voice. “If it was a threat to all of us.”
“Ronarasai,” Khim said. “We want to save her!”
“How much of our father is left in there?” Anna said to Anje. She picked up the cartridge and loaded it into the modified Garand.
“All of him,” Anje said, staring at Anna. “He and I have made a pact to destroy Amajeyan, and if he breaks his word, I will leave his body and he will be lost forever.”
Anna thought about the situation for a moment. She nodded to herself and said, “You don’t need to kill her. That’s just stupid.”
Khim stared at her. “Anna!”
Anje said, “Stupid?”
“You don’t want to kill her,” Anna said. “Killing her would be letting her off easy. Don’t you want her to suffer?”
The other sisters look at her. Khim shouted, “Annatopolis Lo Castra-Jey!”
Anje stared into Anna’s eyes, green to green. Slowly, she smiled. “You are truly the daughter of our heart…” Anje’s face froze. She released his hands and collapsed on the floor.
“Anje!” Khim ran over and knelt beside her. “You ok?”
Anje rubbed the side of her head. She let out a moan. “Got a heck of a headache.”
“You too?” Rho muttered.
They all looked at him.
He stretched his arms out and yawned like a cat.
Khim shouted, “Dad!” She hugged Rho tightly.
Rho glanced at Anna and Anje. He smiled weakly. “My God, I’m hungry.”