(If you have not read my prologue or previous chapters, please do so now.)
Tales of Tanjia, Chapter 20 - Her Increasing Dominion
The roaring cheers and thundering music continue through the day, and in a way, it's encouraging. To know that the people are still able to enjoy themselves after all that happened last night, I feel a little more confident that things will eventually fall into place for my own family again. Though, that seems very far off for now. I stare at the half-eaten meal in front of me, trying to will myself into at least finishing what is on my plate. Why they prepared so much food for only one person I don't think I'll ever understand.
"Is the food not to your liking, Your Majesty?" Captain Ve'raena inquired discreetly, offering to take the platter from me. I place a hand on the porcelain dish to keep it on the table.
"No, it's delicious, I'm just terribly short on appetite at the moment."
"If you're sure, Your Majesty." She returned to her stiff, attentive posture. She looked splendid in her armor, and I appreciate the small kindnesses she has shown me thus far. I still watch that sword on her hip with a keen eye, however. It's much more difficult to see it as a means of protection now, I just can't help but be afraid of it. One of the other soldiers clears their throat and I am reminded to stop staring, returning instead to my lukewarm tea.
No chance to warm the tea myself this time. If my secret was found out now, it would be a disaster I can't even bear to imagine. The sins of my father weigh heavily enough on my mind as it is, I couldn't possibly-
A loud knock interrupted my thoughts, and two scholarly looking men entered the room. I set my cup down and lean toward the captain. "Who might they be?"
"Taj'erii's Minster of Technology, along with the Director of Observational Astronomy." Her answer was short and left me with more questions than before, how frustrating. It seems the two officials will have to answer those for me.
I stand to greet them, the beads on my makeshift shackles rattling ever so slightly. Taking a deep breath, I make a conscious effort to put energy into my greeting, "Hello, gentleman. To what do I owe this pleasure?" Oh, for goodness sake, my cheerful tone was so forced. Why did I say it like that? The two men even seem taken aback by it. One of them steps forward, however, clutching a tablet to his festive honey-colored robes.
"Your Imperial Majesty, what an honor it is to lay eyes on your splendor and beauty. We do regret interrupting your meal, however, we thought it best to bring this matter before you as quickly as possible," He then fumbled slightly with the stylus, but soon found his grip and scrolled through his notes. By looking at his new holographic tablet, I'd like to assume that he is the Minister of Technology, but I'm not sure. I can't exactly guess and embarrass myself, so I'll see if he introduces himself.
"And what matter is that, if I may ask?" I step away from the table to stand a little closer to my guests, but a hand blocks me after about three steps. I stood in place, obeying the wishes of my guard. "Please, continue."
"Ah, yes. Your Imperial Majesty, my colleague at the observatory brought this to my attention just before moonrise last night. One of his astronomers, Lady Ta'riah, made special note of our moons' projected path. It seems that the eclipse will be much shorter, ending the Alignment and its Festival prematurely." He clears his throat nervously, anxious to continue with his statement I'd think. "So, in addition to the mild disappointment of a brief festival, we do have another issue. The shield generator for the city is running low on power, and we took the opportunity to shut down the shields as a way to order a replacement power source."
"That sounds rather reasonable, what exactly is the problem?" I can imagine several issues, but I try not to spiral into a panic before the report is even over.
"The trouble is, Your Majesty, our new power supply will not arrive in time due to transport delays. The Shi'youni salt flats just to the south of us have been experiencing severe lightning storms, making passage through impossible." His stylus rattled in his trembling hand, his nerves clearly getting the better of him.
"Is there no alternate route they could take?"
"None that would be quick enough, Your Majesty. The storms are massive and interfering with instruments as well, so any detour would take just as long as waiting this out. With the power we have available, the shields could only be kept up for a few hours once the tides rise again."
I sat back down at the table and had the men do the same. "That is troubling. Is there a way to divert power from other things to buy time while they make the detour? I know that Taj'erii's light show is a favorite at the Alignment Festival, but if we could do something low power and use the energy to keep the shields up then maybe-"
"I'm sorry, Your Majesty, but we've already calculated those options. We would only muster up another day's worth of power at the most. Simply not enough to sustain us until the delivery arrives. It seems we may have to evacuate the city when the tide comes in." He runs his hand through his oiled hair and the other man wrings his hands. Taj'erii has never experienced an energy crisis like this before, let alone thought of evacuation.
"Absolutely no neighboring cities have a power source to share?" They both shook their heads, grim from exhausted options.
"We should have at least a two days before the tides are high enough for concern, but our window of opportunity is very small." The director spoke in a bare whisper, his optimism clearly depleted. Not even a full day in this new position of mine and I have crisis upon crisis to deal with. Just my luck, I suppose, but it could be worse.
"Thank you for bringing this to my attention, gentlemen. Keep me informed as far as the evacuation plan goes, but do keep trying to think of alternatives that will keep the shields running, even if it is just to buy more time to get people out of the city." I stood once more to bid them farewell. "I will not be leaving the palace today, so please, if anything else comes up, do come see me."
"You are most kind, Your Majesty. We will continue to work diligently on this matter." Both men bow deeply before leaving in a rush. Once they're out of sight I sigh deeply lean on the table for support.
"Are you all right, Your Majesty?" Ve'raena placed a hand on my shoulder, which I promptly removed.
"I'm fine, just a little overwhelmed perhaps. If it's not too much trouble, I'd like to stop in and see my family before moving on to another festival duty." I can't help but feel anxious about not knowing exactly where they took my mother and brothers or wondering what kind of state they're in. Kii'jah is a fine healer, but his skill isn't my concern. How much did they allow him to help once I was gone? I need to see my family, stay close to them if I am going to stay sane through this ordeal. "Please?"
The captain nods in agreement, and I am taken through a mazelike series of hallways, eventually reaching our destination. I entered the dimly lit room, and am greeted by heavy incense smoke trying to mask the smell of medicine. I see that mother and Ma'olu are resting on couches, but Koa is missing. I tell myself that he's simply resting in the bedroom. I will see for myself in a moment, once I speak with them.
Ma'olu is the first to notice and runs to grab me in an embrace. "I didn't think they'd let you come back." His hug is tight and warm, like nothing I've felt in a long time. I wrap my arms gently around him, returning the embrace, but careful not to press any bruises. I pulled away to look at him, and instantly I felt sick with anger. So many bruises spotted his precious face, and his lip had stitches.
"I'm so sorry, Ma'olu. Are you in pain? Can I do anything for you?" He shakes his head solemnly, gazing at me with his powder blue eyes.
"The pain is manageable, thanks to the medicine, but I'm just glad to see you, sister." He smiles with the unstitched side of his mouth, and I was about to reply before hearing a teacup clink as it was set on the table.
"Yes, so good to see that my daughter can manage to convince her captors to bring her by for visit." Mother spoke with words full of every ounce of bitterness and spite I expected. I understand it wholeheartedly, but I would be far too afraid to speak out as she does. A thick black veil covers her head and shorn locks, but, as I suspected, no mourning gloves. She crossed her legs beneath the simple gown she wore and smiled softly at me. "I'm glad you still have some say in this, child."
"I'm glad I could see you again today. Where is Koa?"
"In the bedroom. Kii'jah should be back soon to tend to him again." Ma'olu leads me into the bedchamber where I can see Koa lying on the bed, a thin blanket covering him up to the shoulders. He was just barely sleeping through the pain, and I knelt down beside him, taking his hand and silently praying that I will be able to protect what remains of my family through this ordeal. He grunts and turns his head toward me, his eyes fluttering open ever so slightly.
"Ka'a...?" His raspy voice whispered my childhood nickname and I felt tears roll down my face.
"Yes, Koa, I'm here. Your sister is right here." He smiled and fell right back to sleep. The door creaked open, then shut behind me. I wasn't sure if it was Ma'olu leaving or Kii'jah coming in, but I didn't care. I was staying put just in case Koa woke up again. I was going to be here for him while he needs me.
"I didn't expect to see you here, the way that the soldiers were acting last night. Stubbornness pays off, I see." Kii'jah sat on the opposite side of the bed, looking over Koa, seeing what bandages might need changing.
"They're my family, I'm going to be stubborn. I love them." With a shrug, Kii'jah plucked a jar of salve from his satchel, looking it over to see if it was the right one. "He woke up for a moment a few minutes ago." He made an odd sort of surprised face at me.
"Really? That's unexpected, everything considered. He might be stronger than I thought." I pause for a long moment and ask a single question.
"Strong enough to leave the city?"
He glared at me, irritated and concerned "Why? What disaster do we have to deal with now?"
"Taj'erii's shields are low on energy and the replacement power source won't arrive until after the tides are above the city walls. Unless we can find a way to divert enough power, the city will have to evacuate during the festival." Kii'jah sat in shock, maintaining his glare.
"Really? How did this even happen? How does Taj'erii not have reserves?"
"I don't know. This isn't my area of expertise and I'm terrified of making a bad call. Can we move Koa if we need to evacuate?" Kii'jah sighs deeply, completely exasperated.
"Yes, we'd be able to, Your Highness. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to treat my patient?" I kiss Koa's forehead and reluctantly leave them be.
Returning to the couch, I sit with mother and explain the situation to her and Ma'olu. I asked the guards if I would be allowed to stay here with my family until it was time to close the first day of the festival, and to my surprise, I was allowed. I don't know what their reasoning was, but I was grateful regardless. I hated to leave, but I didn't get a say in the matter this time.
I was so afraid to step out onto the balcony tonight. It felt as if everything would come crashing down around me again. I was assured that this would be a short, simple speech and then I could go to bed, but that's what I thought last night's speech was going to be. Every word is heard with a grain of salt. Looking out at the city I can see the happy mess from a day of joyous celebration, and I am saddened at the thought of that joy changing to fear and panic later. Everything to keep the people safe. I haven't heard any word about announcing our trouble yet, so I suppose I will hold my tongue, for now.
The icy cold of the marble stings my feet when I walk out and greet the people. They cheer, and I wave, feeling so bizarre on display like this. Just as I am about to begin my address a messenger rushes onto the balcony, pushing past the guards, collapsing to her knees. "Your Majesty, I have urgent news! A canyon collapse has massive landslides into the trench over a great distance, displacing a massive amount of the already rising tide, resulting in a mountainous wave rapidly approaching Taj'erii!"
"Why are you telling me? We need to inform the gatekeepers to raise the shield, however low the power may be." The messenger pants, still out of breath from the sprint here.
"I already did. They're working on it, but it won't be up in time. The wave it, it could be here any minute."
A deafening roar is heard through the trench and I frantically scan the horizon. I hope for any possible solution, but all I see is a wall of black water and angry white foam barreling toward us. My heart sinks, I have only one option left, and I have to take it. I can't help but scream out, frustrated and full of terror, as I throw all of my strength into my power. I reach out toward the wave and throw my arms in the air.
Everything went dark and I feared for a moment that I failed, but I gaze up to see the water being held steadily above the city in a massive dome blocking out the moons' light. I did it. I drop the floor, my power still stretched heavenward to keep the wave above us. I feel a sense of relief, we've survived. But then incredible panic sets in.
I am the first Protector since times of myth to be revealed to our people.