I felt someone shaking me, I woke up startled, a little disoriented and not knowing where I was. I noticed Ilum next to me.
“Good morning,” she bowed to me.
“Hello Ilum, what are you doing here?” but as I spoke I realized what a dumb question it was, my wounds didn’t hurt and most cuts had disappeared.
“My Lady Sultana mentioned that you had a problem during practice and her sister Shahzadi told me I wasn’t needed there, that I could go, she also mentioned that if I happened to be near here I should visit” she was standing next to me, her hand on mine. “I took it as a suggestion to come help you.”
“I’m really grateful” I knew that it was difficult for Ilum to be outside of the Palace’s residential area, but I knew my mother would never risk her favorite slave. “I’m feeling so much better, thanks.”
“A young man came last night and asked me to make sure you were out of the infirmary by 6:30am, is already 6, so time to get up” just seeing Ilum’s smile made everything better. I wondered who the young man she mentioned was.
“Thanks Ilum, I think I can manage by my own. Do you need me to walk you back to the Palace?” I asked as I searched for my uniform, I noticed a new on top of my bed, one denoting my new rank.
“No need, I’ll be fine on my own,” she bowed again and left my room, letting me prepare to face the day.
I dressed as quickly as possible, knowing that I had to be fast if I wanted to catch something to eat before going with Boreas. As I left the infirmary, I heard someone calling my name.
“Kaiserin” Kozlak was the one calling me, “I’m glad to see you are better,” he gave me a drink and a bag with food, “I was told you needed as much rest as possible and I don’t want you running all over the place, so I brought you breakfast.”
“Thanks, that’s so considerate of you” for a second I wondered if it was some kind of trap, I didn’t really know him, I just knew we were related.
“That’s me alright, I’m a considerate man. Besides, it was nothing, my mother was the one who had the breakfast prepared for you when I told her I was coming.
“Yeah, that sound like something Shahzadi would do.”
“Sultana was also worried about you, she didn’t say so, but I could by how she listened to me when I was talking to my mother about you.”
“You are the one who came last night,” he had come to check on me, the one that Ilum had told me about.
“Yeah, I heard some crazy stories about Sultana’s victims and wanted to make sure you were going to be able to get up today, but that healer slave did an incredible work on you.”
I had to agree with Kozlak, Ilum had made an amazing work as always. I looked at my arms and the cuts have been reduced to red lines, already fading.
Kozlak and I arrived at the barracks with enough time. Boreas arrived at seven o’clock and took us to a training room where he left us alone to start warming up. We went over the basic exercises, not knowing what we were going to do we were preparing for everything. An hour later Boreas returned, followed by another captain, someone familiar.
“During this week I’m going to test your strength, abilities, dexterity and intelligence” announced Boreas. “We are going to start with a simple exercise to see what you are capable of.”
Boreas signaled the man that had come with him and immediately a column of water rose from a well hiding in the corner of the training area. The water was separated into blocks of equal size. Boreas went and touched them and they turned to ice.
“Thanks bro, I think I can handle it from here” I remembered then the other man, he was the other warrior that had been fighting Sultana the day I had gotten out of the Burrow.”
“Any time brother” after a quick handshake captain Noto left the place.
“This will be easy, each one of you will choose a block of ice” indicated Boreas. “You will have just one opportunity to cause as much damage as possible. You can use your fists or your powers, but you only have one chance.”
I walked to the closest block. It was square, higher than me, definitely wider. Next to me Kozlak was walking around his block of ice, studying it. It seemed impossible to break it. Boreas knew that, he just wanted to know how much damage we could make.
I heard a crunching noise and I knew someone had already tried. I could see a dent in one of the blocks and a fracture on the ice. Someone on the next block was covering his fist with rocks. He was standing a couple of steps from the block, he motioned a punch and the rocks around his fist flew and hit the block, moving a third into the block. The fractures in the ice extended through most of the block.
“Good job lieutenant Geb” complimented Boreas the young terrakinetic.
Two tries, one below average, one quite spectacular. I didn’t have an idea yet of what to try. I saw Kozlak walk to the terrakinetic to congratulate him, he shook his hand, but didn’t let it go. I saw the fist of rocks move from Geb’s block to Kozlak’s.
“Thanks Geb” Kozlak told the startled terrakinetic.
“What the hell was that?” asked a surprised Boreas.
“It’s my power, I can copy other people powers and used them myself.”
“Of course, a standard Vlad ability, but I haven’t seen one so developed before,” Boreas approached Kozlak’s block, “is almost as good as the original” the impact wasn’t as strong as in Geb’s block, but it was pretty close.
“Next time” warned Geb as he got free of Kozlak’s grab” at least have the decency of telling me your intentions, I don’t like to be played like that.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know how you were going to react and sometimes is better to act first and mind the consequences latter,” Kozlak had done a great job, his power was very interesting.
More and more blocks were being attacked, I saw a mutant punch one block, and then one telepath using the mutant to target his block. Different approaches utilizing different abilities were being displayed around me, but I didn’t know what to do. I touched the block and felt how solid it was, if I tried to punch it, I was fairly certain that it would be my hand and not the block the one to break.
“We don’t have your time heiress” I hear Boreas taunting “if you haven’t noticed you are the only one left. Don’t tell me now that everything I have heard about you is nothing but exaggerations.”
“I’m sorry,” I backed a few steps, to put some distance between the ice and me. I used the sensation of coldness in my hand to connect to it, I used my sight to take a mental hold on the block and then I lifted it, as high as I could. The block was heavy and I had to use all my strength to do it. Boreas and a few others backed up as well. When I felt that I could hold it no more I used my mind to drive it to the floor. The block crashed into the ground breaking in hundreds of pieces, some small, some big. Some shards of ice injured some of the warriors that haven’t moved. The result was a block of ice six times smaller and a lot of shards covering the floor.
“Nice work heiress” Boreas was walking towards me, “is not what I expected, but in this case it worked. But in a fight this trick won’t help you much,” he stared at me, “you are exhausted, after something like this you won’t be able to fight back.”
I didn’t argue his point, he was right, I was tired.
“Good, now that we finished with that, lets form some couples. I want you to fight each other until one of you admits defeat or is unable to move. For the moment I don’t want you using mental tricks, let’s go just with physical strength. Officer Orso” he called the mutant, “Kaiserin will be your opponent.”
It was a trap. Orso was extremely strong, as mutant, his power was physical strength. I was at a disadvantage, especially in my condition. Boreas knew that, he paired me with him with the knowledge that he would beat me up.
“Don’t think that I would go easy on you just because you’re an heiress” he warned me.
“I wasn’t expecting you to” I answered.
I was exhausted and my punches had no strength behind them. I suspected that even at full health I wouldn’t have been capable of hurting Oslo without my powers. I knew I wasn’t going to defeat him, so I concentrated on playing defense. In no time I was covered in bruises while Orso was as good as new. We fought for like seemed to me like an eternity.
“You can give up whenever you want,” he offered for a third time, but I wasn’t ready to admit defeat.
I kept going until I couldn’t move anymore. Orso was assigned to a new opponent and I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t the only one disabled.
“That’s all for today” announced Boreas. “You can go eat. I’ll see you tomorrow, same time. Rest today, tomorrow will be even more challenging.”
I got to my feet with great effort and started walking to the dining hall. Some went ahead, some stayed behind, but we all made it to the dining hall.
I got in line and waited for my food. They gave me a tray with food and I moved to look for a place to sit but I was intercepted by some familiar faces.
“I heard you were demoted to corporal” said Sina, “is good to see you finally got what you deserved.” She had never forgiven me for discovering the attack to the second wall instead of her.
“Aren’t you going to bow to your superiors?” asked Rimsim. A small group of former subordinates and enemies had gathered around me.
“That kind of behavior is not enforced in public areas like this” I reminded him.
“Not usually, but now we are asking you to,” said Farnaces, another of Caracalla’s followers.
“Maybe she just needs a little help, her hands are occupied at the moment” pointed Sina before throwing my tray. “Done,” she announced proudly.
“Good, now behave like a good soldier and do what we ask” ordered Farnaces as he grabbed my shoulder and forced me to kneel before Sina, Rimsin and the rest.
“How does it feel heiress to be back at the bottom of the ladder?” asked Rimsin. “How does it feel, to know that there’s nothing you can do against us?” They were enjoying the situation, I could hear them laughing at me and I was getting mad, but I couldn’t attack my superiors.
“I think that you have to take advantage of the situation” I couldn’t help myself from saying, “after all this is only temporarily.”
“You’re very optimistic, but it will be years for you to get back in a position where we are on the same level” told me Farnaces as he dug his hand deeper on my shoulder, hurting it even more.
“But the heirs reunion is only a few months away, and ranks doesn’t matter there” the hand on my shoulder relaxed, he recognized the threat.
“Well, that’s not something I have to worry about,” said Sina and I could see her approaching me, getting ready to attack me, but before she had the chance I heard a growl.
The hand on my shoulder disappeared and I stood up expecting to see Dux and his wolf, but I found Lamia instead, with Dux’s wolf.
“What are you doing guys?” Lamia’s voice was a sweet as honey “Taking advantage of someone who can’t defend herself? Is a lame way of showing superiority, you are just making fools of yourselves.
“Stay out of this Lamia” warned Rimsin, but there was no conviction in his voice, Dux’s wolf was clearly scaring him.
“That’s lieutenant Lamia for you dear” Lamia always managed to make her voice sound sweet and deadly when she wanted. The growl of the wolf beside her only added to the effect. “Look the mess you made,” she said as she pointed to the tray of food on the floor, “you better clean this mess Sina.”
“That’s not a job for an officer, is something a low rank should do” said Farnaces.
“If you don’t want to do it personally go and look for a slave to do it,” she said as she walked away. Dux’s wolf got between me and the other group and pushed me away from them towards Lamia.
“What are you doing with Dux’s wolf?” I had never seen it away from Dux before.
“I think that what you meant is: thanks dear Lamia, that was so sweet of you,” she had adopted an offended attitude, like I had hurt her feelings, but her dramatic act was not as effective because her hands were occupied with her food tray.
“Of course you are,” I answered with the same dramatic exaggeration. “You are my savior and I will be eternally grateful.”
“That’s better,” she smiled in triumph and I smiled back. “As for your question, I ran into Dux on my way here and he asked me to bring the killer little ball of fur to you, he wants you to take care of him for a few days.
“He doesn’t need anyone to take care of him, everyone knows he’s Dux’s” I said as I petted the wolf.
“Well, I’m just the messenger” Lamia stopped and looked around. “Where were you going to sit?”
“My group is over there” I pointed to a table on the back of the hall. “But now that I don’t have anything to eat, there’s no point of staying here” my new rank didn’t have enough weight to allow me to ask for more food, I would have to wait till night to get more food.
“Let’s go there” Lamia walked to the table I had pointed and I followed her.
I sat at the far end of the table, away from the rest, I had the impression that none of them liked me. Lamia sat in front of me and the wolf sat by her side, setting his head on her lap. As I looked at the rest of my group eating I realized how hungry I really was.
“Eat” ordered Lamia as she pushed her tray to me.
“And what about you?”
“Don’t worry about me,” she told me as Kozlak found his way to the table and sat beside Lamia.
“Who’s your friend Kaiserin?” Kozlak was devouring Lamia with his eyes.
“She’s my cousin Lamia from the Vlad family, daughter of general Tepes, my mother’s brother and colonel Sucubi,” I decided to make a formal introduction, “Lamia, he is lieutenant Kozlak from the Vlad family, son of general Lobishomen and general Shahzadi, my mother’s sister.”
“I remember you” Lamia was wearing her best smile, “you are the pompous brat that completely ignored us two years ago in the heirs reunion because you were occupied playing to be an adult with Dux, Net and the other heirs from the Allied Clans.
“That’s right,” he answered with a killer smile of his own, “I see I caused quite the impression.”
“Not really,” she tried to dismiss him, but her heart wasn’t into it.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” he asked with practiced concern.
“Don’t worry about me” her voice went sweeter if that was even possible, “I ate something before coming here. But I wouldn’t mind some dessert” the double entendre wasn’t lost to Kozlak.
“What did you eat?” I asked, trying to distract them.
“Leg” she answered with a shrug.
“The right question would be of whom” Lamia used an innocent tone when answering Kozlak, “last week we captured a spy trying to get into the Palace.”
“Lamia works in the jail” I felt I needed to explain because of Kozlak confused look, “recently she was assigned to interrogations.”
“So you are one of those Vlads” Kozlak was just thinking out loud.
“What do you mean with those Vlads” Lamia asked with narrowing eyes.
“I prefer the term men eater” again, the double entendre was obvious and I could see how Lamia’s flirting was affecting Kozlak.
Lamia was beautiful and she knew it. From the way she was shamelessly flirting I guess she considered Kozlak attractive as well. The two persons on the other side of the table were the closest relatives I had, not counting Caracalla and Trajan. Seeing them together was bizarre. But I couldn’t blame them for the attraction. Lamia’s curls bounced seductively around her face with her movements, her extremely pale skin only helped to enhance the blackness of her hair and the redness of her lips, long, curly eyelashes framed her amber eyes. She always wore a uniform that seemed to be a size too small, it looked as if the uniform was fighting to contain her soft curves. Kozlak was very attractive as well; his masculine face with dark amber eyes showed thick kissable lips and a square chin. He was tall, taller than Lamia and me, and he had a muscular frame, and just like in Lamia’s case his uniform looked like it was fighting to stop his muscles from bursting out.
I heard my name being mentioned and started to pay attention once again to hear what they were talking about.
“And since then we have been taking care of each other” Lamia finished what I thought was the story of our first meeting.
“Yeah, I kind of got that from the way you step in a few minutes ago” said Kozlak. “But it won’t help, tomorrow or the day after, if they want something they will keep coming and you can’t always be there to help her.”
“The point is for them to know that she is not alone,” she playfully punched him in the arm, “you should have done something too.”
“Hey!” he complained, “I’m nobody’s bodyguard, I don’t have to take care of her.”
“It’s ok Lamia, don’t bother him” I hated to be treated like a wimp that needed someone else’s protection, “I’ll find a way to deal with them.”
“But, just look at you, you’re a mess!” although her intentions were good I didn’t like her attitude. “Only you are dumb enough to piss off your mother.”
“In fact, this” I gestured to my bruises “is because of this morning training, the injuries I got from my mother were already healed thanks to Ilum.”
“Oh!” for a moment she looked confused. “Well, that kind of make sense, I have seen Sultana’s victims and they are always in a worse shape than you are right now.”
“I guess you are right” because of her work in jail, she often had to take care of those who had displeased Sultana. “I was in bad shape yesterday, I had a lot of shallow cuts and I was losing a lot of blood.
“Only you could do something so stupid,” she admonished me, “you are lucky to even be alive.”
“Does everyone knows what happened yesterday?” asked Kozlak.
“I don’t think so,” she answered sincerely, “is just that because of my work I get to hear a lot of gossip about what happens inside the Palace. But it’s late and I have to go,” she stood up despite Dux’s wolf protests and Kozlak’s. “I really need to go, just behave and please, stay out of trouble” she asked me.
“I’ll try” I promised. “And Lamia, I really appreciate your help, it was such good luck that you were here.”
“But it wasn’t luck silly,” she told me, “the old witch told me what was going to happen and when, so I could come if I wanted to help you.”
“Cerridwen? When did you see her?”
“I was talking with her last night,” she explained as she walked away, “she’s been locked down in the dungeon since yesterday.”
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