Chapter 3

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Idiots. Coming up with strategies weaker than a piece of twig. These thoughts reverberate in my mind as I stare in boredom at the people discuss how I would just revive Mandarin, save the island and kill him again by things that make it seem like snapping fingers. If it were that easy, why didn’t you strategists do it yourself?

It is as if I am reliving those moments. I note as I see the past play out in front of my eyes. It is an odd feeling, like the two versions of me are trying to fight for their own spaces. Relax yourself, I mentally chant, and let the dream play out. It'll be alright.

I notice something move near the edge of my vision and I immediately tense. The moment I realize that it is just John and Clara sneaking away from our meeting for some alone time, I force my shoulders to relax from this old habit of ours. When Mandarin was alive, we were always watching our backs in fear of getting caught. My alert expression, which my friend and chief advisor Henry calls a crazed look, turns into a frown at their escape from this serious business but I console myself that it is better. Those two are so much lovesick that it is a lot better to have them away than have them test my gag reflexes.

I turn towards Henry on other side for a private grin but quickly swallow it when I see Paul stare at the escaping couple with a dark expression on his face that Henry is trying to control. It is a wasted effort, like always, because with some words spoken in a voice so low that I cannot hear them at a mere distance of a foot, he storms off behind them. Henry looks at me and grins with a small eye-roll. I can even imagine them causing a storm in the palace. And that place is already too abused to be disturbed further. Well, there is my excuse to officially end this session.“Attention people! To deal with other pressing issues, I must end this conference here. I hope you choose worthy companions for the journey for me. When choosing the companion, I want you to be honest and choose only those who fit the following conditions.”

“They should be able to survive in the wilderness. I want no companion who might become a burden out there. I do not demand someone super-strong but they must have at least speed and a quick mind to be able to take shelter in case we get in any trouble. The journey is going to go through parts which have remained unexplored for some time now so I cannot guarantee what we may find there. No income-earning member of any family shall offer to be my companion. I will not have a family suffer because of my mission. These are the primary conditions. Other conditions may be introduced, if necessary, during the final selection among all the candidates. If none satisfy my interest, then I shall go alone. And there shall be no protest regarding this. I would rather be alone than be with someone who might not be able to act quickly enough.” I think this has been my longest speech in all of our sessions, including the one I gave to an empty room moments after coronation when everyone hurriedly left for John and Clara’s wedding that took place at the same time.

I look over at everyone’s faces to ensure they all understand my conditions. On the inside though, I try to resist avoiding eye contact. It was a habit I picked up during my circus years and still hadn’t dropped even though everyone tried to help me. Once satisfied, and unwilling to wait another second to stop the potential collapse of the Royal Palace, I loudly announce, “then we are done for now”, and quickly leave after them. From the corner of my eye, I see another person walk side-by-side and I smile. “How much trouble should we be expecting this time?” I ask as an unconscious grin places itself on my face.

“Let’s not try to guess this time. The twins always surprise us.” Henry responds and I can’t help but agree. To strangers, Clara is nice and polite and John is the first to lose his cool if something happens. But when it is time to go head-to-head with Paul, Clara is the one to unleash the feisty side. John learned not to intervene when, annoyed with his interruption in their argument, they threw him at a wall magically together. Then they got back into an even worse argument. Not even Elder stepped in on their fights ever. My grin and step momentarily falters as guilt fills me again.

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