Calix walked into a dark room. The only light originated from a holoprojector standing in the middle of the room, which was barely illuminating her. It was as if she was a ghost hiding in the shadows. Only the light purple hue of her loose mini-dress added any color to the room. She walked with determination to the holoprojector, her blonde curled hair jumping up and down until she stopped.
A rough voice broke the silence: “I thought you got lost.” An older man emerged from the shadows of the corner of the room. He wore a white tunic and a deep purple robe, which was long enough that it dragged behind him. A light cream-colored headband, boots, and a belt completed his outfit. “We’ve got urgent matters to attend to, and you make the Emperor and myself wait for you? Have you gone mad? This insolence is unheard of.”
She bowed as a sign of respect. “My sincerest apologies for being late, Keeper, but as you may have noticed, the Emperor hasn’t made his presence known to us just yet.” She offered a mischievous smile, her pale blue eyes sparkling with enjoyment.
“I thought agents were more punctual and less frisky. I knew that you were not fit for this mission. When the Emperor comes, I will do everything in my power to retain you at home. Perhaps even a disciplinary action will be required to teach you some respect.” Nueren shot a disapproving look her way and turned towards the holoprojector.
She walked up to stand right beside the Keeper, who was a few inches taller than her. “Father, I assure you I am ready for this mission. This is all that I studied and prepared for the last couple of years. You can’t just take this from me now, not when we are so close to commencing it.”
“Perhaps you are right.” He put an arm around her shoulders. “I worry for you, though. Scorpion is a man that you should fear, and I am afraid of sending you on a mission involving him. You’re my only daughter, after all.” He kissed her lovingly on the forehead and let go of her.
“Yeah, an adopted daughter, the existence of whom no one knows.” Her melodic laughter echoed in the almost empty room. She walked towards one of the five massive armchairs stationed around the base of the holoprojector and took a seat. Looking around, she saw the all-too-familiar nameplates on the tops of the seats. The seat next to which she sat read, Keeper of Knowledge. The next read, Keeper of Production, Keeper of Empire’s Safety, Keeper of Finances, and, finally, the throne on which she sat belonged to Keeper of Religion.
Nueren walked over to his seat and sat down leisurely. “Be that as it may, you are nevertheless my daughter, and I am going to do everything in my power to protect you, as a father should.”
The holoprojector shimmered for a second and the Emperor appeared. Quickly, the two got up from their armchairs and bowed respectfully.
“You may take a seat. No one is watching. There is no need for this circus.” The Emperor’s deep voice was full of authority and power. He had brownish hair, with pale gray beginning to show. His hair came down to his shoulders at the back. He had hazel eyes, and a robust jaw line. His rich outfit spoke volumes about his status; his surcoat was as white as the first snow, and the outside of his cloak was as black as night. Inside, however, it was a rich golden color. A variety of jewels hung from his neck, and his fingers were covered in rings embedded with precious gemstones.
“Calix. Your mission is to find Scorpion. Do what you must, but the mission must be completed. And it needs to be completed as fast as it possibly can.”
She bowed her head slightly. “Your Majesty, as you know, I will do whatever I can, but this is Scorpion. He is not an easy target. The Hewshians failed on multiple occasions to assassinate him, but what you are asking of me is beyond even that.”
“Are you saying you can’t complete the mission set before you?” The Emperor squinted, and his brows creased in the middle.
“No, that’s not what I am saying. What I am saying is that perhaps the mission won’t go as fast as you would like. After all, Scorpion doesn’t let anyone get close to him.”
“I have taken care of that already,” the Keeper intervened. “As you know, Scorpion and I were close once. I told him that he needs to rebuild his reputation after being missing for a few months, and what better way to do that than a fight against the Fraxonnians?” His mouth spread gradually into a wide grin.
“This was not the plan, Nueren! She was supposed to go to Croton and get close to him there. How is she going to do that if he is off fighting Fraxes who knows where?”
Nueren got up and bowed to the Emperor once more. “Do not be displeased with me, Your Majesty. I did what I thought was best. You see, it’s very hard to infiltrate Scorpion’s ranks, but on Brunto, where he is going to be, she can play the role of a survivor. She can get as close to him as she needs, without him questioning her motives. All she needs to do is find him and make him believe that she is a survivor of a fight. If he believes her, and takes her under his protection, she will be as close as she needs to be to complete her mission.” He glared at his daughter. “Or at least start the mission.”
The Emperor thought for a moment, his head slightly down and his arms crossed over his chest. He began pacing back and forth, considering the plan.
Silence fell over the room. Nueren waited patiently for an answer, until he couldn’t wait any more. “Knister, I need your approval. Fraxonnians are going to attack Brunto any moment now, and Scorpion will be off to save whoever he can. We need to act swiftly and get her in position, if this is indeed what you want.”
“She is your daughter, Nueren. You are risking losing her if we go with this plan.”
“This is the fastest way to get to him, and the safety of our – your – empire hangs in the balance right now. We need her to complete this mission as fast as possible or gods help us, for we will need all the help we can get.”
“How will she find him on an entire planet? I know that Brunto isn’t large, but it still has a few million people.”
“I have taken care of that already. As I said, Scorpion and I were very close friends. I suggested to him to make Snag Point his headquarters there. He and his sister accepted this suggestion rather eagerly. I assure you, knowing him as well as I do, he will be there, and that is where the two of them—” he pointed at his daughter, “—will meet.”
Knister nodded in understanding and turned to look at Calix. “Then this is your mission: survive until Scorpion saves you on Brunto… and then complete what you have been tasked to do.” He turned and walked away.
Moments later, the holoprojector emitted a flash of light and turned off. Dim lights illuminated the room as Nueren, and his daughter exited. They walked in silence through the building, passing many rooms and halls till they finally reached a corridor that connected the keep to the starport. It was a long corridor, wide enough for two-way traffic, with two lanes in each direction.
A multitude of people walked here, and carts and small vehicles drove every which way. Nueren came to a window. It was tall, stretching some twenty feet off the ground until it merged with the rounded ceiling edge. He looked outside. A snowstorm was raging, hitting the windows hard. Looking down, he saw nothing but snow. They were five thousand feet off the ground. Even on a good day, you could scarcely see what was below, and gods knew that Nar didn’t have many good days.
“It’s time,” Nueren muttered. “I will not continue walking with you anymore. These men will escort you to the starport and deliver you to Brunto.”
Calix came up and embraced him with every ounce of her strength. “Father, I won’t let the Empire down,” she promised as he kissed her lovingly on the top of her head.
“I know,” he whispered, barely loud enough for her to hear. “It’s time. Go. The sooner you start the mission, the sooner it will be over.”
She freed herself from his embrace and smiled softly. “Love you.”
“And I you. Come back in one piece, okay?”
She turned around and three armed guards in white armor suits approached at once. They offered her a seat in the vehicle, and as soon as she took it, they sped off towards the starport.
The ride wasn’t long, but for her it was as though only a moment had passed. She didn’t pay any attention to the road; it seemed an abyss. The whole journey, she studied the information that she had received through her eyeglasses, for the hundredth time. She memorized her new identity, how she had ended up, where she would end up in a few hours, her family’s death… she committed to memory every little detail.
“Alright, lady, this is your ride.” One of the marines pointed to an older transport ship. “But before you go, there is one more thing that I was asked to do.”
“What is it?” she asked with confusion in her eyes.
“They told me to rough you up a bit, to make it look like you were raided and survived out in the wild for a few days. So, I will need you to forgive me for a few things, darling.”
They stopped in front of the craft and got out. A bucket of dirt was standing not far from the entrance into the ship. She took a few steps and felt someone rip her dress. “What are you doing?” she yelled at the marine. But as soon as she turned to face him a bucket of dirt was dumped on her back. The marines started to rub it all over her. “What’s the meaning of this?”
“Lady, I told you, we need to make it look like you lived in Brunto’s wild lands for some time.” They proceeded to rip parts of her dress and rub in the dirt. “Alright, this is good enough. Let’s get you to Brunto, shall we?” He winked at her and, with a laugh, disappeared inside the craft.