I knew I was running late, but I couldn’t run so I was doing my best to be as fast as I could without breaking on a run. I crossed the door and felt someone grabbing me by the waist and pulling me to the side.
“Don´t worry” Cervo whispered in my ear, “Morrigan is not here yet.”
“Let me go!” I ordered as I wrestled out of his hold. I was mad at him, I knew it was silly, I had no right, but I felt betrayed by him. Soon after my promotion to sergeant Cervo and I had started a relationship, the first real relation for me, but it had meant nothing to him. “Are you crazy? What were you thinking grabbing me like that? I was startled, I could have hurt you.”
“Breath and calm down” I could see him hurting by my rejection. Good. “It’s not like you to act like this.”
“You asked for it” I was mad, but also hurt and I wasn’t calming down.
“You don’t get it, do you?” Cervo tried again to soothe me. “I have nothing against you, you are wonderful, perfect.”
“Then why is Argen having your son? You never wanted one from me” with me he was always careful, always taking precautions, avoiding something that could link us permanently.
“First of all, you are too young for that, second, I’m just a simple Cohorte, you are a Maxima and an heiress. I’m not worthy” it was the same as always, I was getting tired of his excuses. “You are too young to understand the repercussions of making this decision. Any of your children will have the possibility to become an heir, so it’s your responsibility to choose someone from a royal family. You need a general or a colonel, not a simple officer.”
“I don’t care” I hated him and the fact that his arguments actually made sense, “I’m just a simple officer too”
“I know you don’t care, but you should. You have a great responsibility” he was losing his temper too, “And we are just too different, I’ll just be a simple officer for the rest of my life, but you will go further up, you could even be the next empress.”
“You don’t know that” being empress seemed like an unreachable dream. And for it to become a reality my mother had to die, so it wasn’t something I liked to think about.
“You were sergeant less than a year before you were promoted, and now along with the rumors of Morrigan getting promoted you know there are rumors about you taking her place.” I was going to argue but Cervo stopped me. “I can see it every time I see you training, you haven’t stopped growing, and you still haven’t reached your full potential Kaiserin.”
I didn’t want to continue that discussion, I was mad and I was about to hit him if he kept talking, so I just walked away from him. I heard him calling me, but I ignored him.
Once I leaved Cervo I noticed that Cerridwen was there. I hadn’t seen her since my promotion to sergeant almost two years and a half ago, when my mother had forbidden her from talking to me, I was surprised to see her, she spent most of her time in the Burrow.
“What is the seer doing here?” I asked Azur, one of my peers.
“She is giving a crash course on astral projection” she told me, “it’s kind of interesting, but a waste of time, just a few can astral project and I’m sure I’m not one of them.”
“Most psychics can astral project, it’s as easy as going to sleep” was saying Cerridwen at the time, “but it is a dangerous ability to learn, “she was talking to a group of people around her, but I felt like she was talking to me. “When you project you are actually separating your mind and your body. The possibility of getting lost and not being able to return to your body is an ever present danger. Regals and Amons can make use of their double minds to reduce this risk by having a stronger connection between body and mind.”
“It minimized the risk, but there is still a risk” someone said.
“Correct. But if you can master it, it’s a very useful ability to have” Cerridwen sat on the floor with her legs crossed in a meditative stand. “Some people can go into the astral planes by accident, like Fritigerno, and some never really get to get there. But it’s worth a try. So, who wants to try now?”
“Fritigerno?” I asked to no one in particular.
“Yeah, apparently one of his minds decided to go on a hike in the astral planes and caused some problems” informed Azur. “That’s why Cerridwen is here, offering help to prevent further accidents.”
“It’s very important for you to be in a total state of relaxation. If it makes it easier you can lay down. Breathe deeply, Inhale and feel the air entering your body, exhale and feel the fatigue, the pain and the worries out of your body along with the air. Inhale and feel the energy filling your body, exhale and feel the burdens of your mind disappear” the group around Cerridwen was following her instructions closely, I was just observing them. “Now relax your body, I want you to feel it, picture it from the tip of your toe, up to your ankles, legs… up to your head. Visualize, feel, relax. Feel your body getting heavier, sinking, let it do it” without meaning to, without even realizing it, I have started to follow her instructions, despite having my eyes open and being standing I was feeling heavy, just like she said. “Concentrate on your mind; treat it like something independent from your body. Now, get up!”
I was surprised to see two translucent bodies getting out of a couple of people. I was so startled that I tried to take a step back, but my body was not responding. One moment I was watching them, the next I was looking at myself falling to the floor. It was a bizarre experience, one that ended as soon as my body hit the floor and my point of view changed again and I found myself on the floor.
“It was a good first try” Cerridwen was saying “next time you should try doing while lying down, or at least seating.”
I didn’t get Cerridwen words at first, but then I understood what had happened. I noticed the rest of the people getting up, my little accident had messed with their concentration.
“You all should try again tonight,” she said as she stood up, “is always hard the first times, but keep trying.”
“Are you done?” asked Morrigan, I hadn’t noticed her.
“I think it will be all for today” Cerridwen answered, “I gave them the basics, the rest is up to them. I will be waiting for them on the other side.”
Morrigan proceeded to give some indications about what was expected of us during the week and then we had a training session with her. After that I went and relayed the important information to those on my charge. At the end of the day I went back to the barracks that I shared with the other officers. I walked right past Cervo’s door doing my best to ignore him. If he wanted to spend the night with me he would have to look for me. Many doors were open to me if I chose to, but none of them interested me.
I got in my room and closed the door, as I lay down I remembered Cerridwen’s class. I decided to experiment and see how far I could go. I was already used to the relaxation exercises, so that part was easy for me. I tried to recall what I had done in the morning, how my mind had moved without my body following it. My body was feeling heavy, so I tried to move as if I was trying to get up and I did it, my body and mind unfolded. I was hovering above my bed, I could see myself on the bed. I felt I was going up, moving further up until everything was blurred out.
“Welcome to the first superior plane” I heard… No. I felt someone talking to me.
There was a blurred figure standing in front of me, I knew that the words had come out of it. The figure started to move closer to me and as it did it the blur changed to show me Cerridwen.
“I had no doubt you would get here” I felt Cerridwen talking, but her lips were not moving. “In this plane, we don’t really have a body, all communications is telepathic.”
“But none of us is a telepath” it was weird, I wasn’t talking, but I knew that Cerridwen had heard me.
“Here we are nothing, we are just a concept, an idea” she moved closer to me, but she wasn’t walking. “Here no one can come between us.”
“If my mother finds out about this she is going to be mad” I remembered the warning my mother had given Cerridwen, I knew that she didn’t want me talking to her.
“Of all my living descendants you are the only one that can continue with my legacy. You are so powerful and you don’t even realize it. But I have seen it. There are many roads at your feet, most of them end up with you on the throne” she sounded so sure of her words it was scary. “I will prepare you so you can fulfill your potential.”
“My mother says that you like to play with people destinies, and that you are not trustworthy.”
You have to decide by yourself if I’m trustworthy or not. But believe me, is in my best interest to make sure that you grow to be everything you can be. Just give me a little bit of your time, let me prove you that I don’t want to harm you. Take my hand,” she asked as she extended her hand to me. As I reached to her I noticed that I looked as always, but she looked younger. “The power of the mind is what defines the image that we project here. People who first come here look exactly as they look in the flesh because the mind shows what it knows. As you grow used to being here and you get stronger you will be able to change your projection, you can even be someone completely different here. I like to travel without a defined image, you never know what you are going to find here, but when I do project a body, then I like to show a younger version of myself.”
“How do you that?” I was already thinking of the possibilities.
“Let’s leave that for later. Now, wouldn’t it be better to take a tour of the place?”
Cerridwen showed me how to navigate the astral planes the following nights. The hardest was to walk on the material plane, the one we lived on. The world was so real that the projection kept turning back to the body. The first superior plane was easier to travel, it was very similar to the material plane, but it was a watered down version of it, with blurred lines and fading colors. The second superior plane was like I imagined walking on clouds would be like. It was empty of shapes, but filled with energy. Cerridwen told me it was the best plane for thinking and meditating. The third superior plane was populated with something Cerridwen called the lost minds. I couldn’t talk or interact with those minds, Cerridwen explained that it was because those minds weren’t prepared to. The ones you could interact with, lived on the fourth superior plane, but I didn’t get to see them, Cerridwen told me I wasn’t prepared, the risk of going there and not coming back was too big.
The inferior planes were something completely different. The first inferior plane was similar to the material plane too, but it was like it was covered in darkness, with no defined shapes and no colors, just shadows. The second inferior plane was a great void, cold and confusing. It was a good place for training because just being there was challenging, but we didn’t spend much time there, it was easy to get lost there. The third inferior plane was just spooky, you could see and feel shadows walking around, it you stayed there long the shadows started to solidify and go after us, trying to steal our energy, Cerridwen warned me that if they got to me they could steal enough energy to make it impossible for me to leave again. The third inferior plane was as far as we could go, beyond that there were forces so strong and evil that we had no chance of ever going back if we faced them.
Going into the astral planes at night became a routine. I spent weeks with Cerridwen learning about the astral walking and strengthening my mind and abilities.
“I think I have never had a student as good as you,” she told me one night. “Your ability to learn and apply what you learn in real life situation is outstanding. I know that you are prepared for your next challenge.”
“What do you mean by that?” It was frustrating that Cerridwen never said things straight, she was always so cryptic. I knew that there was more behind her words and actions.
“Soon there will be a conflict that will put the balance of power in the empire in danger. Sultana will have to make an important decision. Her actions in the next weeks will determinate the course of the oncoming war. If she takes the right path she will have a chance at winning. She needs to keep the empire united if she wishes to fight the rebel clans back.
“What does that have to do with me?”
“The betrayal of one of our allies will be the step into this new war. To stop this betrayal a Special Forces unit will be created. My visions showed me that there is a chance that you get to be part of that group. Your future depends on it. If you can’t be part of that group many paths will close for you and you will be lost among the many faces in our clan.
“Then I have to be part of that unit? Maybe if I ask Shahzadi…”
“No!” She interrupted me. “You need to do this alone, you must earn your place. But before that you will have to be sure that is what you want. If that is the path you take, you must know that it won’t be easy, it will be painful and challenging – inside the astral planes Cerridwen performance as a seer was frightening, her voice reverberated on me, filling me with an uneasy feeling. “Death is waiting for you at the crossroad, if you choose wisely and conquer death you will emerge as a legend among our Clan.”
“Is this what my mother was talking about when she said that you like to play with people lives?” I remembered the last time I had taken the path that Cerridwen had shown me. It was true that it was difficult and I almost died as a result, but it had taken me to my mother and has given me an opportunity to live.
“I’m giving you a great opportunity. Most don’t realize how important this will be, or the reward for those capable of surviving this test.”
“Will I survive?”
“Perhaps. It’s up to you.” She didn’t offer any explanation.
I started the descent to my body, I knew that I couldn’t talk to Cerridwen any more, things would only become more confused. But I couldn’t stop thinking about her and her words for the next days, I kept wondering what she was up to and what I was supposed to do.
“Have you heard?” asked me Dux one day in the dining hall.
“Heard what?” Rumors about Morrigan getting promoted were getting stronger and I supposed that was what he was asking, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
“Sultana is going to get a new Special Forces unit” as he told me that I remembered Cerridwen’s words. “I heard that the best soldiers around the empire are going to be tested and the best of the best will be part of the new unit.
“And you are telling me this because…?”
“Because I thought you might be interested, it would be a good opportunity for you to be closer to Sultana” Dux knew that those words were enough to get my attention.
“What about you? Aren’t you interested?”
“No, I’m not, for starters, I’m already a captain so I don’t qualify, besides, I don’t like working in teams, I prefer to have just my animals as company. But I just wanted you to know, see you later” As Dux walked away, I couldn’t help but wonder if Cerridwen had something to do with Dux’s visit.
It wasn’t long before I started to notice how my superiors were looking closer to our training sessions, selecting the best of each group. Soon a battle between regiments started. Most didn’t know what was at play, but I knew what was going on, so I made sure to win all of my battles in a way that made no room to question who was the best in the Palace.
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