Ashessa emerged from her mobile sanctuary–a sleek gray vehicle, its doors adorned with the crest of her branch of the Sakakibara Family. Its leather interior was warm in comparison to the increasingly bitter temperature of Myyhera IV’s winter. Her driver, a Brutor named Skartufer stood to the side of the door, bowing his head in that same subdued manner for a seventh-generation slave. Barely noticing him and wearing a large fur coat, Ashessa began to make her way up the steps of her grand-nephew’s manor, flanked by attendants and personal guards.
The house looked like it was under occupation, kameiras standing guard at the door, their weapons holstered but nonetheless menacing. They were a grim reminder that the Holding that had been in the Sakakibara family for nearly a millennium was no longer under its direct control.
Prior to her arrival, she had receives dozens of pleas for help from other members of the family–the omnipresent but nonetheless hidden DENT forces were slowly being replaced by the equally omnipresent but incredibly overt kameiras bolstered by Naomi’s personal cabal. Ashessa had been surprised to see so many–servants, maids, cooks, footmen, groundskeepers, some even within her own estate–begin declaring their support for the bastard child of Ishariel Sakakibara.
Two kameira approached her retinue, scanning them with digital equipment Ashessa normally associated with spaceports. It was an outrage. Reginald would never have subjected her to such humiliation.
“Madam Ashessa, be so kind as to take off your coat,” A household servant working with the two kameira asked.
She returned the request with a hard gaze, “You would strip an old woman in this cold?”
“It’s for security purposes.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the kameira begin to confiscate weapons from her guards while the majority of her entourage was denied entry to the manor, encouraged to return to the vehicles back in the motorcade.
So she wants me naked, then?
She wouldn’t back down, exclaiming, “This is utterly ridiculous!”
One of the kameira joined them to see what the commotion was about. She had thought there was at least some respect came from not being manhandled by one of the Empire’s super-soldiers, but clearly she would not be afforded the immunity for much longer.
“Is there a problem here?” The kameira asked, either ignorant or simply irreverent towards Ashessa’s position as the matriarch of a branch family.
The servant shook his head, “Not a problem. She’s cleared to go in.”
Ashessa fought back a smile. So, there were still some loyalty after all.
It was evident from the moment she entered that the whore’s spawn was incapable of hosting even the most meager of dinner events. Instead of being brought to a parlor for conversation, she was hurried into the dining room itself. Though it was lined with an army of waiters and servants dressed in their very best, the dining room felt clumsily and hastily prepared. Even worse, Naomi was already seated at the table. She didn’t even bother to stand up to greet Ashessa.
“Please auntie, sit,” Naomi indicated, having already begun the main course, the poultry on her plate carved.
“Such a warm welcome,” Ashessa mumbled back politely–no one had even bothered to take her coat, the heavy fur coat billowing against the chair.
She must have looked like an old clown, struggling to sit with no assistance. So that was Naomi’s game. Humiliation.
“We certainly do our best. I hope you don’t mind pheasant?” Naomi asked in between bites.
“Of course not,” Ashessa smiled, turn to a servant with a request for a certain vintage of wine to pair with the poultry.
“Auntie, this game that we’re playing,” Naomi said, leaning back into her chair, “It must end.”
Ashessa hadn’t even placed the napkin across her lap, “I beg your pardon?”
“The House must end its rebellion against me. I am Reginald and Katerina’s representative, after all,” Naomi responded before taking a sip of her glass of wine, “And your branch is subservient to ours.”
Reginald would have never made such a snide remark. If Naomi had understood anything about the family’s history, it was easily the other way around less than four generations ago. Had her grandfather not gotten himself killed without a male heir hunting Blood Raiders, it would’ve been Naomi on her knees swearing fealty to her!
“Don’t make me laugh.”
“I’m deadly serious, auntie,” Naomi placed her elbows on the table, her face one of clever manipulation, “Oh, and Rebecca is eager to see you.”
Ashessa felt a twinge in her heart. Rebecca Sakakibara was the last living descendant in her immediate family–her parents having disappeared, though she suspected foul play on Naomi’s part. A five year-old girl caught up in a game she barely understood. It was well worth her life to see her to safety.
“What do you want?”
“I know that Katerina gave you certain privileges. Oversight, over my actions. You will relinquish those privileges and little Rebecca will come to no harm. A shame for what happened to my cousin Orion and to his lovely wife–they left Rebecca in this world without parents.”
Ashessa felt herself falter. How could she have known? Her experts had assured her that most of the family accounts and affairs were under special codes and protections, encrypted through Reginald’s tower in Saikamon, a tower that her own son had protected. Gaining the access codes was an impossibility–unless the tower had been invaded.
“You killed–” Ashessa muttered, the realization dawning on her.
But Naomi interrupted, holding up a hand, “Shall we retire to a parlor?”
Ashessa was still seething by the time they reached the parlor doors. Naomi walked with the arrogance of a victor. Ashessa clenched and unclenched her teeth behind her lips, trying not to betray emotion lest it undo her and with her, Rebecca’s future.