I don’t know how long it had been. I had been drifting from consciousness to unconsciousness and time had lost its meaning. When they finally put me down my body felt as if there was not a single inch of flesh that hadn’t been hit, cut or stab. The man threw me over his shoulder and a ripple of pain coursed through me.
“We have to tell DEM immediately, the information I got from the captain is priceless” the woman was clearly excited and I wondered what she had found. “Try not to hurt her more, DEM will want to talk to her, and maybe kill her himself.
The woman kept walking, the man stopped in front of the cell. He dropped me to the floor, he didn’t bother to chain me to the wall again, he knew I was in bad shape, I couldn’t move. When he left I heard the noise of chains, I tried to open my eyes, but it was impossible, my eyelids felt glued on.
“Kaiserin?” the worry was thick in Kozlak’s voice. “Kaiserin, can you hear me?”
I tried to answer, but I could only whimper. The rustling of chains increased, someone was trying to get free, but it was pointless. I had never appreciated medical care as much as at that moment. Back at the Palace I knew that no matter how bad were my injuries after a fight or training at the end of the day I could walk into the infirmary and they would heal me, soothe my pain. And there, on the cell’s floor I knew that I wouldn’t have that, the pain was only increasing and my body was trapped. I tried to move, to stand up, to flee that awful place and before I knew what I was doing I was astral projecting. One minute I was on the floor, the next I was floating in the middle of the room.
I stared at the figure on the floor. It was hard to recognize her, the face was covered with blood and the slashes disfigured her factions. The clothes were just rags insufficient to cover her abused body. I stared and I kept thinking that the pathetic figure before me couldn’t possibly be me.
“Don’t Kaiserin” the murmur reached me from far away, as if I was under water, “without a double mind to act as an anchor and with a body as abused as yours your mind could not be able to return. “Ratri was staring at my astral body, she wasn’t looking well, she looked sick, pale, weak.
“What are you talking about Ratri?” Agis asked.
“Kaiserin, she astral projected, but if her body collapses the connection will break and her mind will be lost forever.”
But I didn’t want to return to the pain, I didn’t want the broken body. I didn’t listen to the warnings, I fell to the lower plane and hid in the shadows, where I wouldn’t have to see myself broken. It was so difficult to think, I just wanted to rest. But once alone my mind started to clear. I wasn’t afraid of getting trapped out of my body, it was useless anyway, they were going to kill me, it was better to stay on the astral planes. But then I thought that if I was going to die at least I would do something to take revenge. Traveling on the astral planes was fast, but it was easy to get lost. I picked a direction that I thought was right and hoped it was the correct. I had to find someone to warn about the Creator Clans.
Cerridwen had taught me that the Imperial Clan always had a watcher on the inferior and superior planes to avoid possible spies. I hoped it was true as I approached what I hoped was a friendly settlement.
It didn’t take me long to find some watchers, or maybe it did, time was difficult to measure in the astral planes.
“This place is out of limits” the voice came before I could see the watcher speaking.
“Are you from the Imperial Clan?” I asked. The figure was blurred and it was difficult to identify. Even if it was crystal clear on the astral planes you could look as you wanted.
“Who is asking?”
“I need to give a message to this sector’s general” I said as another figure appeared by my side.
“Identify yourself” demanded the second figure.
“I’m Corporal Kaiserin from the Maxima family. Part of captain’s Boreas unit. We passed through here a few days ago. We were ambushed by the Creator Clan, we need help.
“There was a group that passed through here, they were with the empress” I could feel one of the projections saying.
“She was a double of Sultana, the real empress is safe, but must be informed at once” I added.
One of the projections disappeared.
“We will investigate if what you say is true”
“We don’t have much time. You must do something to stop them. The Creator Clan killed colonel Herstogi and probably the rest of the soldiers there.
An unknown sensation took hold of me. I felt like I was being pulled, I was lost for a moment and then I felt the pain of being back in my body. Someone was dragging me by the hair.
“I’m sure of this DEM, my Lord, this is Sultana’s daughter” the woman said, maybe not for the first time.
“It’s only fair that after she took my son, I take her daughter away from her” said the old man.
I was expecting a repetition of the previous day, but instead of being hung from the ceiling I was strapped to a table. From where I was I could see the cage, nothing but a pile of burned out flesh remained of Boreas. I couldn’t help myself, I cried. I tried to be brave, to tell myself not to be afraid, but I was, I was terrified, I didn’t want to end up like Boreas, I didn’t want to be dead.
“Which do you think is our best choice?” asked the old man as he grabbed a scissors. “We could send her daughter back, one piece at a time,” he took my hand and put one of my fingers between the scissors’ blades, I felt the pressure as they closed, but he seemed to change his mind and let my finger free, “or we could use her as bait to lure Sultana here. We are prepared for her, with our new cannons there’s no way for her to survive if she comes here.
“First, we’ll need to find Sultana, I had very confusing information about her from the captain. The empress suspected something, that’s why she sent a double in her place instead of coming herself or sending one of her generals,” explained the woman.
“You’re right, we need to investigate that” and then the old man left, I could hear his steps getting away.
“Now that we know who you are, we can’t let you die, not just yet anyway,” the woman told me. I heard movement and someone walking around me. “Your wounds are starting to get infected and we can’t allow that, can we?”
“Of course not,” came the voice of the man who had tortured me the day before.
I felt the pressure at the back of my head, the woman was trying to enter my mind. I didn’t know what they were planning, but I knew it was going to be painful and once the pain consumed me my mind would be weakened and the woman would enter my mind. I tried to find a way to avoid it, but I couldn’t think of one.
The man peeled away the rest of my clothes. The clothes had stuck to my flesh and some took my flesh with them. My wounds were being reopened and I felt blood running through my body. The pain irradiated my body and the telepaths pressure increased as the pain did.
The man took a rag and soaked it with a strong smelling substance that could have been some kind of alcohol. He started scrubbing one of my legs. Cleaning my wounds? But without anesthesia the treatment was even worse than the torture of the day before. I couldn’t help myself, I started screaming, the pain was unbearable and it felt as if he was scrubbing my flesh away. I was cold, I felt nauseous. I tried to free myself but I didn’t have the strength, my body started shaking, I was shivering without control. It was then that things got weird.
I suddenly found myself in a place I only visited in dreams, that weird place that looked so much like the caverns of my childhood, but that instead of a rock ceiling stood under the open sky. It was like being sleep, but I could still feel the treatment the man was subjecting me to. It was like daydreaming, it was like being half asleep. Waves of pain coursed my body and I felt dizzy, the world around me went dark and inconsistent for a second.
I saw the woman standing in the middle of the landscape, she seemed unaware of her surroundings, all her concentration was focused on a huge crystal orb in front of her. I went closer, trying not to attract her attention, as I approached, I could see different images reflecting on the orb, they looked like the memories now going through my mind. It was like seeing my life reflecting on that crystal. I first saw images of me and Lamia in the Palace. The woman started mumbling and I saw the images change. I didn’t know what was going on or how or why those images were there, but I knew what she was looking for, she was looking for Sultana. In the middle of the pain and the feeling of despair an idea came to me. If the woman was in my dream, watching my life, looking at the same things I did, then maybe I could change the dream and made her see what I wanted her to see. I struggled to control the dream and the images on the orb started to change. I could see inside the orb the memories of the only occasion I had seen my mother vulnerable. It was a strong memory, it has caused a great impression on me. The woman was excited by the things I was showing her. I started to craft other memories she could be interested in. I hoped that it was all real and not just some hallucination caused by the pain. The exercise helped me focus in something other than the pain, and although I couldn’t escape the torture I felt like I was doing something useful.
An eternity later the pressure disappeared and the woman was no longer in my dream, but next to the table, standing next to me.
“I have to go to DEM,” the woman informed the man. “Take care of her” the dream was over, but I was still in a nightmare.
I had a plan already forming in my mind and I decided to take the risk. I astral projected and immediately descended to the inferior plane, where I ran to the same place I had gone before. Anything was better than staying there with the pain. They were already waiting for me. They told me that they were already getting ready to attack, reinforcements from the Palace were coming as well. I tried to warn them about the mysterious weapons they were so sure of and they assured me they were going to take the necessary steps to protect themselves. I told them everything I could, all the things I had noticed during my arrival at the enemy base and what I had seen during my astral journey. I explained them my ideas and my plan and they agreed it could work, but only if the dream had been real, only if I had fooled the woman.
I was talking with the astral projections until they told me that they had already spent too much time outside their bodies and they had to return. They asked me to do the same and avoid any unnecessary risks. They told me they were going to look for me as soon as they could. If things went our way it would be over in a couple days, that if we could survive two more days.
I returned to my body and wished I hadn’t. My body was hurting all over. I was still on the table, without a possibility of escape. I heard voices talking away from me, far enough that I couldn’t understand their voices. It wasn’t long before unconsciousness claimed me again.
When I woke up again, someone was carrying me. The smell told me that it was the same man. We arrived and he gently put me down on the floor of the cell, instead of dropping me like the day before.
“Wake up sleepy head” ordered the woman, “you cannot leave us yet.” I opened my eyes and saw the woman looking smug and pleased with herself. “Don’t worry my girl,” she said as she moved the hair out of my face, “thanks to your cooperation we will soon capture your mother, and if it works you will be rewarded.”
Before she left the cell she moved some levers and I heard chains cascading as she increased the range of my teammates bonds.
“What did you do?” asked Agis angry. “Did you betray us? Did you betray your own empress and mother?”
“Don’t be an idiot,” said Kozlak. “Didn’t you hear the screams? Whatever happened, she didn’t have a chance.” Kozlak moved as close to me as he could and extended his hand to me, I tried to reach him as well, despite of the pain when I tried to move, but it wasn’t enough, the extra chain just gave him enough reach to brush my fingers. “Ignore him Kaiserin, I know you did everything you could.”
I tried to speak, but I couldn’t, only a whimper escaped my lips. I looked around, Geb was prompted against the wall, and his breathing was shallow. Echrad held Ratri on her arms, trying to soothe her, I noticed how pale Ratri was, she looked already dead. Oslo was on the floor, motionless. All of them looked dirty and in bad shape. I haven’t eaten since our capture, I wondered if it was the same for them, I guessed it was.
The pain was becoming unbearable again and I tried to project, but for some reason I couldn’t, so I let myself go and welcome the unconsciousness as it came for me.
I heard my name, someone was calling for me. It was cold, but I had nothing to cover myself with, nor could I move if I had. I didn’t want to wake up, I didn’t want to even move.
“Kaiserin!” the voice was heavy with concern.
“It’s pointless,” someone else said, “if she doesn’t wake up now, maybe she won’t ever wake.”
“Let her go,” someone else added, “it may be preferable to force her to endure the pain any longer. We all are going to die here anyway.”
How long had it been? Had the rescue attempt failed? I felt numb, my senses were clouded and even if I tried to move my body wouldn’t listen to me, my body felt heavy and weak. I started trembling and the voice started calling my name again, but it was getting weaker, as if he was getting farther away every minute.
An explosion woke me up. First the noise, and then the vibrations shaking the cell. I didn’t know what was going on, and I was too tired to worry about it. Silence enveloped me again until another explosion detonated, and then another. Between the explosions, in the silence, all I could hear was my heart beating and my teammate’s hard breathing.
Something was happening outside our cell. I was still on the floor, my back to the door so I couldn’t see as someone opened the door and stepped into the cell. I braced for the worse.
“Here!” The one behind me yelled, “I found them.”
There was more noise as people ran our way, the rustling of the chains reminded me of my teammates.
“I’m major Gaya from the Imperial Clan” said the person getting closer to me, “who are you?”
“Kozlak, Vlad” I heard the weak voice of my cousin, “help… Kaiserin.”
“Let the colonel know that we have found them,” ordered Gayal. Then he kneel by my side and put his hand on my neck, he was checking my vitals. “Excellent work corporal, everything will be ok, just hang on, let’s take you out of here.”
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