Ashrom motioned for the two guards to leave, when he, Darion and Tolrek entered the interrogation room. Meric was sitting, his hands and feet bound with metal shackles.
Tolrek leaned against one wall, eager to observe what would happen. Ashrom remained by the door, leaving the matter entirely to his younger brother.
“It’s about time you came to get me,” Meric began, his tone self-assured, despite his circumstances. “The Tildari have what they want from me. I expect to be back in Vaironia tomorrow. I need to see the Prime Minister and the rest of the security council. They don’t appear to have understood that my goal was…” Darion held up one hand to silence him.
“I believe you have the wrong impression,” Darion explained, as he sat across from Meric. “They understand what you’ve done. That’s why I’m now in front of you.”
He signaled to Ashrom, who handed him an intricately carved metal box. The top of it had “Navarr: Level 10” engraved on it. Darion set the container in front of him and ran his fingers over the words on the box, thinking of what its presence meant.
“How dare you?” Meric pushed. “You left me in the hands of these barbarians. Then you come in here and play this game.”
“I assure you, this is no game,” Darion responded calmly, his state of mind that of the cold negotiator who had risen rapidly up the ranks. He opened the box, pulled out a meticulously designed platinum gauntlet and placed it onto his left hand. Tolrek looked at Ashrom, noting how keenly Darion’s older brother was watching the proceedings.
“Then what exactly is going on here?” Meric asked, in a clipped tone. A sheen of sweat had broken out on his skin and the pulse at his neck had quickened.
Darion didn’t respond immediately. Instead, he activated the glove. A needle inside of it, imbedded into the largest vein in his arm, drew out his potent blood. As his dark red liquid began to flow into an oval glass reservoir on the top of his glove, he let the macabre image seep into Meric’s mind.
“You knew that Vaironia required me to seal away much of my power,” Darion stated, as blood continued to collect. “You’ll now join the unfortunate ones who’ve experienced it.”
Darion now stood, casting a merciless shadow. The strength of the oppressive and turbulent force that Tolrek had sensed around Darion tripled. Meric, despite how restrained he was, tried to shrink away from the negotiator.
“I revoke your citizenship, on behalf of Vaironian Prime Minister Devdan Kebehde. You are now completely under Tildar’s rule,” Darion announced. “With the authority granted by Behadan Kyniska, I will render judgment.”
Meric struggled to be released from his bonds. His nostrils flared, as his breathing became more rapid.
“I’m still valuable to Vaironia!” he insisted. “There are other things I can offer.”
“Your time for bargaining is at an end,” Darion informed him, his cold tone sending more fear coursing through Meric. “Your body will be cremated and scattered into space, as befitting one without a nation.”
“Wait! Darion, don’t think you know everything. I—”
“Submit to the ruthless majesty of my bloodline.”
Darion placed his gloved left hand on top of the former official’s head and his right hand around his throat. The power in Darion’s blood, harnessed by the glove, began to destroy the brain of the condemned. The first wave of charges crushed Meric’s ability to make any sound, regardless of how much he tried to scream. The next set of waves liquified his brain. Rivulets that were a mixture of brain matter and blood trickled from the dying man’s eyes, nose and mouth. Maintaining his grip, Darion glanced at Tolrek to witness his reaction. Tolrek was staring at his lover, a combination of anger, surprise and morbid fascination in his dark green eyes.
Darion had to fulfill a series of responsibilities, before he could have the much-needed conversation with Tolrek. He ordered the disposal of the traitor’s body and sent his glove to be cleansed and stored away. While soldiers were following Darion’s directions, he went to one of the bath halls that were exclusively for military use. He soaked for almost an hour in the private room he’d reserved.
As he dressed in his most formal attire, the expression in Tolrek’s eyes continued to play through his mind. He pushed his lover’s response away for a few hours, while he met with the Behadan in person and then updated the Vaironian officials with her directing the meeting.
His obligations finished for the day, he drove to Ashrom’s home. Instead of going inside, he sat in his car for a few minutes and let out a long breath. He pinched the bridge of his nose, as his brow furrowed with frustration. The look on Tolrek’s face returned to his mind. He knew they needed to talk but he was hesitant. He wasn’t sure he’d like how the conversation would progress. Instead of going to speak with Tolrek, he called his grandmother, hoping she could set his fractured mind at ease.
“Vaendesh ikatan,” Darion began, “I’m very lost right now.” When Melrena heard him use the Tildari phrase “heartbeat of the family,” she understood the depth of his confusion.
“Then, let us talk, olani han’ai.” She’d responded by calling him “one who needs a compass.”
When Darion arrived at her home, she sat in one of his favorite spots in her garden. His mood was the opposite of the peaceful, sunny day. He poured out the pain, frustration and grief he’d felt about the situation with Meric. His grandmother listened. Only when he looked to her for comforting words, did she speak.
“This was such a heavy burden, Darion.” She gently patted her grandchild’s cheek. “Using your ability makes it a crushing end to this series of events. If you lose your way now, then Meric will have won. Don’t let him leave a mark on your soul. He’ll be nothing but wayward ashes soon.”
“I wouldn’t be this conflicted, if I knew for certain how Tolrek felt,” Darion admitted. “But right now, I can’t bring myself to talk to him. In doing what I thought was right for myself and for my family name, I may have pushed him away from me.”
“Shall I call him here? You two could talk.”
“No!” Darion shook his head vehemently. “I’m not ready. He looked so angry. I may have even seen disgust in his eyes.”
“Would you like to remain here for a few hours? You could even spend the night. Perhaps that’s best.”
“I’ll stay for a while longer but not the night. I don’t want to put off the conversation for too long.”
“Of course not. And we’ll speak of lighter topics, during lunch. Then, you’ll get some rest. This evening, you can see Tolrek. Call Ashrom to let him know where you’ll be or he’ll worry. He’d speculated about how the Behadan would want Meric executed and he knew it might be difficult for you. Tell him you need some time here. He’ll pass the message to your parents, Aleena and Tolrek.”
His grandmother stood and he did the same. He walked beside her, as they headed back to the house. After following her advice to call Ashrom, Darion cooked two of his favorite dishes with her. While they were making the final preparations, her robotic assistant set the table. Soon they were ready to eat their meal. Her assistant retreated, going into the garden to tend to the flowers and the fish in the pond.
“Shall we speak of lighter topics?” Melrena asked, as her eyes filled with happy mischief.
“You have something you’ve been eager to tell me,” Darion said, smiling.
“When the time is right, I’d like to introduce you to someone,” she told him. “I met him on my first trip to Andemas.”
Darion was familiar with the small, previously uninhabited planet that Tildar had claimed almost 30 years ago. The empire had allowed people from various backgrounds, whether or not they were Tildari, to settle there. Due to the cultural diversity, Melrena liked to travel to it, gathering information from those of various cultures.
Darion noted the smile that came to his grandmother’s face and the loving softness that drifted into her eyes.
“And just who has earned my grandmother’s attention?” Darion asked.
“His name is Zeinrus Fynn. He’s now very important to me. We’ve become closer in the past few months.”
“It has been over a decade, since Grandfather passed,” Darion said. His tone changed to a teasing one. “No one will be as great as him but I’ll do my best to behave around this new person.”
“I know. You’re the first in the family I’ve told.” She pointed to the dish containing three types of vegetables, indicating that he needed to eat more of them. “I imagine Ryam’s response might not be as mellow.”
Darion laughed softly, imagining that his father would be somewhat petulant and completely overprotective.
“Enough of my love life. What will you and Tolrek do now?”
“Well, he’s seen my ability. It could change everything.” Darion sighed, as he picked up the dish containing the vegetables. He added some to his plate. “Assuming Tolrek doesn’t leave me, we’ll continue to build a life and raise Kyan.”
“You’ll be fine,” Melrena assured him, after hearing the nervousness in his voice.
“I never intended to raise a child but Tolrek would be miserable if we didn’t.”
“Him knowing your full ability could mean he welcomes raising Kyan with you,” Melrena pointed out. “After all, he and Kyan have a power too. Based on what we know, their ability isn’t as fearsome as yours but it’s definitely something that must be managed too. You’re in a good position to understand their needs.”
“I’ve never thought of it that way.” Darion took a sip of his wine. “I hope he’s as optimistic.”
“Just keep in mind that you three might not be able to live on Vaironia for long. I doubt Tolrek will allow Kyan’s abilities to be blocked. Now that he understands more about himself and his people, he won’t subject Kyan to restrictions.”
“We can teach Kyan to manage himself. He’s already quite mature for his age.”
“It might not be as simple as that. You mentioned that he still has nightmares about his time in the program. You don’t know what else hasn’t been unlocked.”
“We’ll deal with it,” Darion responded confidently. “We might eventually have to move to Tildar but that is part of my long-term plans.”
“Then, Tolrek and Kyan are welcomed in my home. They can even visit me without you. Maybe I’d prefer that sometimes.”
Darion laughed at his grandmother’s teasing. Though he continued to talk with her for a few more hours, the upcoming conversation with Tolrek remained at the back of his mind.