Boreas informed us of the problems that had arisen for the last months in one of the sectors and how our closest allies in the area, the Innovator Clan had failed in giving us an explanation about it. One squad had been sent to investigate the problems, but they had disappeared. Our allies informed us that they had never reached their destination, but because of the problems being so close to them their credibility was in question. It was necessary to get to the bottom of the problem. Our mission was to escort the empress to the Innovators base so she could interrogate them herself.
It was going to be my first time outside the walls and the idea of it was thrilling, but I was also nervous and a little afraid of the unknown. As we started our trip I could see Dux’s falcon flying above us, he followed us the first few miles. The falcon’s presence gave me a feeling of security, but it didn’t last, when the Palace was no longer visible the falcon turned away.
“It’s your first time outside?” asked Geb.
“Yes, I had never been this far” my group was traveling in the vehicle guarding the rearguard.
Five units were part of the expedition, one of them was traveling one day ahead of us and the other four were positioned around the car where the empress and the four captains, leaders of the units, were traveling.
“The world is bigger than you can imagine. I had been from one corner of the empire to the other. You can spend months traveling through the empire and still don’t see all of it. That’s without taking the Rebel territories and the Light Kingdom into account” Geb told me.
“Everything is so beautiful and different” I was in awe, the landscape was changing as we advanced, it kept surprising me.
The landscape changed again, now the flora were scarce, almost disappearing. All around us I could see only brown. It was already getting dark when I felt Echrad’s mind reaching out to me, I opened my senses to her.
“We are in the silent zone” Echrad informed us through telepathy, “electronics don’t work in here, this is a good ambush point, so we need to be alert for trouble.” But we got out of there without trouble, and not long after we reached our destination.
The first day we stopped at one of the empire’s control points. As soon as we arrived Sultana and the captains went to find the commander of the place and we were left alone. I had a feeling that something was off, but it wasn’t until the second day that I found out what was bothering me. Sultana was not Sultana. There was someone else passing as her.
“Have you noticed?” asked me Kozlak later that day.
“Notice what?” I asked as I surveyed our surroundings looking for something I had missed.
“The woman with Boreas is not Sultana” he told me confirming my suspicions.
“Yeah, I had noticed, but I don’t know if I’m supposed to notice, so I just stayed quiet.”
“I thought the same, but I’m restless, I don’t like the fact that she’s a double and we didn’t know about it.”
“Same here, but maybe they just assumed that if we don’t know that she is not the real one it would be easier for them to fool others.”
“That makes sense” accepted Kozlak. We didn’t talk again for the rest of the day.
“We are almost there” announced Agis. “We are going to spend the night with the Creator Clan.”
“That name sounds familiar, but I don’t remember why.”
“Is one of the Clans that were allied to the Technological and Hunters Clans during the attack to Sultana years ago. Now it is under the control of a colonel of the empire and responds directly to the general of this sector” explained Kozlak.
“So it will be hostile?”
“Not necessarily,” answered Echrad by telepathy, “everything is controlled by our Clan, so we shouldn’t have any problems. Is our next stop that could be problematic, there is where he have been having problems”
We arrived to the Clan’s base before dark. I was a walled city, the gate opened to let us in and we descended our vehicles in the yard at the center of the place. We went to the fake Sultana’s vehicle and gathered around it as she descended. Boreas was the first out, then the other captains, surrounding and protecting her. My unit and the other units were lined around them like protective walls. We moved with them as they walked into some important looking people.
“Welcome empress” greeted the man at the front of the group. He looked old, his hair showed some gray, signal of his debilitating nature, but he still held and important position by the way the locals responded to him. “It is an honor to have you here with us.”
“Where’s colonel Herstogi?” asked the woman pretending to be Sultana. “He should be the one here.”
“I’m so sorry Your Highness, but you arrived earlier than we expected and he is busy right now, but he will join us shortly, I can show you to the local Palace in the meantime.”
Our captains and the woman started walking, we stayed in place waiting for new orders. I had a bad feeling, I felt restless, but I didn’t know why. I started looking around and noticed the local soldiers, they didn’t look like the ones from the empire. The Clan should be under our control, but something was off.
“Echrad” I tried to invoke our mental link. If she was monitoring our thought, she was going to hear me.
“What’s wrong” luckily she was listening.
“Have you noticed something off with the place” I didn’t’ wait for confirmation. “It doesn’t look like an empire controlled Clan, look around, those soldiers are not ours.”
“Boreas says to stay alert” she informed after a few minutes.
I noticed the change in my teammates, they were more alert. I supposed that Echrad had transmitted the same message to them.
A group of soldiers came and informed us that they were going to guide us to the place we were going to spend the night in. We didn’t want to abandon our post, so just one of the units went with them to take our things there while the rest waited for the false empress and the captains.
We drifted to the side of the building and waited there in silence, we were under an open window and could hear some voices above us.
“I didn’t think that the empress herself would come here” I heard the old man saying.
“I thought you were going to take me to the colonel, where is he?” asked the false Sultana, her voice wasn’t as strong or commanding, I wondered if the man suspected her.
“It’s been almost three years since you decided to kill my son, the true leader of this Clan” said the man, with an attitude I did not like. I glanced and could the restlessness in my teammates, they had heard him as well. “And after you murdered him,” continued the old man, “you put that man who knows nothing or our people in charge. I decided that I have had enough humiliations from him. I’m afraid he is no longer here, but don’t worry, you will be with him shortly.” If that wasn’t a threat I don’t know what it was.
“Boreas requests our support” relayed Echrad by telepathy. My unit and another one near us entered the building, we ran looking for our superiors. I found an enemy squad and the while the other unit engaged them, we ran to where our captain was.
When we arrived the place was filling with some kind of gas, I used my power to form a wall of air between us and the place where the gas was pouring. One of the walls tumbled down and I saw Geb gesturing for us to get out. Boreas and the other captains were fighting the old man while Kozlak, Agis and Masani tried to hold the old man’s soldiers. I ran with Echrad toward the false empress and together we carried her to the exit. We ran into more soldiers at the exit, none of the guys from the other unit was alive. Get raised a stone wall as they started firing at us. We returned to the hall to see the enemy winning the fight. Boreas was on the floor, surrounded by frozen soldiers, it was impossible to see if he was still alive or already dead. Another one of the captains was being double teamed and was losing. I couldn’t see the others. I wanted to help them, but I had my own battle to fight. I pushed a soldier with my mind as I fired at the other. I was so distracted with them that I didn’t notice the old man approaching us until I heard the false Sultana screaming.
I turned in time to see the bizarre transformation. The woman’s body was on the floor, her neck broken. Sultana’s face was melting, another person was taking her place. A metamorph always reverted to his original appearance after death. The old man wasn’t pleased, mad rage distorted his factions. I tried to shoot him, but before I could someone disarmed me. I felt a punch on my head and the world around me went dark.
I was woken by the pain, my head was hurting and my arms were stiff and pained. I tried to move by I found out that my hands were being held above my head. I opened my eyes to semi darkness. I was seating on cold hard floor, my hands stretched above me by a chain. To my right Kozlak was tied up the same way. As far as I could see most of my unit was there.
“How are you feeling?” asked Oslo. He was tied up a couple of people from me. He was standing away from the wall, the chain around his wrists stretching as far as it could. The chain was bolted to the ceiling, it was long enough for us to stand just a few steps from the wall or to be like me, seated with the arms upright.
“I feel awful” I tried to follow Oslo’s example and stand up, to get my arms a bit of rest. I looked around and observed our cell. It wasn’t big, it was dark and smelly, floor and walls looked like stone. A thread of light filtered from under the door at the far end of the room. “What happened?”
“The information we had was wrong. Our problems were not the innovators, were the creators” Oslo looked around, like searching for something or someone, “they stopped or killed the Clan’s representatives and made us believe that everything was the same. I guess the groups before us had the same end as us.
“I haven’t seen him, but I heard him” she shivered, “I’m not sure what they did, but I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant.”
I recalled the stories Lamia had told me of her work in jail. She talked about the interrogations techniques used by the Clan in the most natural way, but the tortures they inflicted on their captives were terrible. I felt a shiver running down my spine as I thought of the things they could do to us. For the first time I really understood what I had gotten myself into and realized why my mother had being so reluctant to let me be part of this. Cerridwen had told me it was going to be challenging, but I hadn’t thought of that situation as a possible outcome for my mission.
Little by little the rest of the group woke up. The only missing were Boreas and Masani. Ratri and Geb were injured and losing blood, it was hard to guess how much time they had left if they didn’t get medical attention. We tried to free ourselves, but our powers were being suppressed and we could manage without them, even Oslo, the strongest among us couldn’t break free.
I don’t know how long we had waited in the cell before the door opened. The light from the outside poured in, framing the figures at the door, one slender and apparently fragile woman and a fat kind of goofy man.
“Who should we take?” asked the man.
“I’ll let you chose this time” answered the woman. “Just take whomever you want.”
The man entered the cell and walked to us. Oslo tried to attack him when he was close, but he was just out of his reach. The man went to the wall by the door and pulled a lever. I was pulled by the chain until I found myself hanging from the ceiling. I tried to reach the floor but I could barely brush it with the tip of my toes. I heard the whimpers from Ratri and Geb and knew that the sudden pull should have worsened their injures. The man went to Ratri and I felt desperate and impotent not being able to help her.
“Her?” asked the woman. “She is badly injured, she won’t last long. We need someone able to survive long enough to give us useful information.
“What about this one?” he asked as he stopped in front of me.
“Don’t you dare touching her” barked Kozlak next to me.
“I think we have a winner” said the woman.
The man approached me and I tried to kick him, but because of the position I was on I couldn’t hurt him, in exchange I received a punch in the stomach that knocked the air out of me. Kozlak was trying to free himself while he insulted and screamed out at our captors. He wasn’t the only one yelling, but couldn’t recognize the other voices.
The man was taller and broader than me. He looked like an animal, and smelled like one too. The grabbed me by the neck with one hand while he produced a key and opened the cuffs on my wrists. As soon as my hands were free I grabbed his arm, trying to ease the pressure on my throat, he was squeezing it harder. He pulled me to him and then drove me hard to the wall, the pain exploded on my head, I felt weak and dizzy. I heard my teammates, but I couldn’t understand their words, I thought they were calling me, but I couldn’t answer them. The man dragged me out and the woman put new cuff on my wrists and ankles.
“You and I are going to have so much fun little one” the woman told me cheerfully. “I really hope you resists as much as your predecessors did. It’s always more fun when you do.
They drove me through a long hallway until we reached a huge room. In front of me I saw a bonfire, it was across the room but I could feel its heat on me, burning my flesh. Even my breathing felt hard because of the heat in the air. I heard whimpering and looked up, above the fire there was a cage, and inside it was a naked man, covered in blisters caused by the fire and heat. As he sensed our presence he looked at us. When I saw his eyes I was shocked to recognize him, the man in the cage was Boreas. Just seeing him send shivers all over my body.
“Don’t worry” said the woman, “I have something better planned for you.”
They took me to the other side of the room, I could see chains dangling from the ceiling. The man took one of them, one with a hook attached to it. He passed the hook through the union of my cuffs and lifted me from the floor.
“Where is Sultana?” asked the woman, “Why did she send a double? Does she suspect us?”
“I won’t tell you anything” I managed to say.
“There’s no need for you too, just think about my questions” as he said that I felt pressure in the back of my neck, she was a telepath and she was reading my thoughts, trying to get inside my mind to get even more information. “I will find the information I need.”
I did what I could to shield my mind, to stop her from reading my thoughts. I knew by the feeling on the back of my head that she was at least reading mi superficial thoughts, but I had to distract myself and made sure she didn’t have access to my mind and whatever information I could have about Sultana.
“Can I play with her?” asked the man.
“Of course you can, have fun!” she encourage him.
I saw him going to a table filled with different instruments, including many knives. He took a big hunting knife, the kind used to dismember hunting prey. He walked towards me waving the knife in my face.
I was decided to not let the fear take hold of me. I was preparing myself to what was coming next.
“You have a pretty face” he put the tip of the knife against my lips and then moved it around my face. “I don’t like pretty faces” he added as he pushed the knife on my forehead and cut it moving the blade down my face.
The pain proved to be a good distraction and I felt the telepath slipping through my defenses, an image of Sultana flashed in my mind and I realized that I had to make a bigger effort to protect my mind. I felt the knife again on the base of my neck, he cut from there to my navel. He again played with the knife, but he wasn’t cutting me, he was stabbing me on my belly. The telepath presence in my mind disappeared and I saw the woman moving closer to where Boreas was.
“It seems the captain is ready to give us the information we want. Just keep doing what you are doing” she ordered.
The next attack was more vicious, I felt my throat filling with the metal taste of blood as I tried to scream out of pain. I wanted to throw up, but there was nothing in my stomach but bile and blood. The heat in the room was making me sweat, I could feel the sweat down my body, burning in my wounds like acid. The man kept slicing, cutting and stabbing. I was in a world of pain, one that mercifully went black after a while as I passed out.
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