The journey back home took more time, it wasn’t as easy to move hundreds of soldiers. My group wasn’t acting as an escort, most of us were still in recovery and unable to protect more than ourselves. Kozlak was the second in command and therefore was the one in charge now that Boreas was dead. He was taking his job very seriously, worrying about keeping us safe, but I really doubted that after what happened to the Creators Clan someone would be stupid enough to attack us.
When I finally saw Dux’s falcon flying above us I felt safe again. Its presence was comforting, but more importantly, it meant that we were back home.
Returning to our quarters was weird. We were less than before and the place felt empty. As soon as we arrived, I went to my room. Kozlak had gone to find Shahzadi, she must have been worried about his son’s well being. My mother on the other hand had a lot of work to do after being away from the Palace and didn’t have time for me.
The next day we were called to one of the training rooms. When we arrived Shahzadi and Sultana were waiting for us.
“First of all I want to congratulate you all for your performance” my mother said, “we knew the risks of this mission, it was a suicidal mission, but you survived it and you must be proud of yourselves.”
“But unfortunately you lost your leader during this mission,” said Shahzadi. “We are here because we need to appoint a new leader.”
“We could bring someone from outside the unit, but after what happened, we feel that it would be better to choose someone from within” my mother was now pacing in front of us.
“The logical option is Kozlak of course” Shahzadi wasn’t even trying to mask the pride in her voice. “He was selected by Boreas as second in command and is only logical for him to take his place.”
“What do you say Kozlak?” asked my mother. “Are you ready to become this unit’s captain?”
“I’m honored,” Kozlak said, “but I don’t deserve it,” I was shocked by his answer, it as such a good opportunity. “During the mission I was unable to help my teammates. I was powerless to guide them or support them. There was only one person that rose up to the challenge. I think that it’s only fair to recognize that both our lives and the success of this mission are thanks to Kaiserin. She’s the one who should be honored, not me.”
I haven’t even thought about things like that. It was dumb of Kozlak to let the opportunity go, especially because it was pointless, I couldn’t be in charge, I was both the youngest and the lowest ranked in the unit.
“What you say may be true Kozlak, but what you suggest it not possible. The person in charge has to be a captain of my army. In your case is just a promotion away, but Kaiserin is far from being a captain.”
“With all due respect, Your Majesty,” Ratri said, “if someone can fix that problem is you. Just as you demoted her back to corporal, you can raise her up to captain.”
“Sister, I think that they had discussed this before. The only ones that were surprised by Kozlak’s words were Kaiserin, you and me.
I couldn’t believe Shahzadi’s words at first, but I looked at my teammates and none of them was contradicting her words. I was flattered that they recognized my help, but I didn’t think that it could work out.
“Kozlak?” my mother questioned him about Shahzadi’s words.
“It was when we found out about Boreas death. It is true that he selected me as second in command in this unit, but we all know that we owe Kaiserin and that she is capable of doing this work.
“There’s a huge difference between being strong and a good fighter and being a competent leader” I recognized my teammates good intentions, but my mother wasn’t one easily convinced. “I have to take everything into consideration when taking a decision.”
“Being able to command respect and loyalty is a leader’s best trait” said Echrad, “and I think that we all agree that Kaiserin has both our respect and loyalty. Is not an exaggeration to say that if it weren’t for her we wouldn’t be here.”
“What do you think about all this Kaiserin?” like Shahzadi didn’t already know, it all was very confusing. I have never imagined the possibility, I was hoping to get my previous rank back, but nothing else.
“I wasn’t expecting this” I honestly said, but it was something I wanted. When Cerridwen had told me about the unit I had the idea of getting a new rank, making a better reputation. But after the fight with my mother, I stopped thinking of it.
“Do you think you are prepared for the responsibility?” my mother asked.
“If I get the opportunity I will do everything in my power to meet everyone’s expectations. I wouldn’t let my teammates down, I wouldn’t betray their trust in me.”
“Kamose will be furious with you for even consider this” Shahzadi told my mother. It wasn’t easy for her, she wanted Kozlak to be promoted, not me. He was letting a great opportunity go and she couldn’t be happy about it.
“Well, Kamose is not the emperor, I am, so what he thinks is not important. My only concern about promoting Kaiserin was that I thought that his underlings wouldn’t accept her, but if they are the ones suggesting this maybe it could work” I could see a flash of a smile on my mother’s face as she said the last bit. “Congratulations captain Kaiserin, from now on you will be in charge of this unit,” she handed me the captain’s insignia and I took it using only my mind thinking it appropriate. “Tomorrow you can go get your new orders.”
“Thank you my empress” I was stunned, but happy, “I won’t disappoint you. None of you,” I added, looking at my subordinates.
Shahzadi and my mother left the place as the rest of the unit approached me to congratulate me.
“I really hope that you are sure about this, because now is a little late to take it back,” I said after they all presented their respect to me.
“We did think about it and yes, we are sure we won’t regret it” said Geb.
“Why don’t we go to the dining hall?” suggested Echrad. “I’m hungry and I want to see the face of Kaiserin’s ‘friends’ when she arrives with her captain insignia.
And it was really interesting. Sina and the others gave me the wide berth once they spotted my new insignia. As we didn’t have any assignments I decided to give my ex-teammates, now subordinates the rest of the day off to do whatever they wanted. Kozlak went looking for his mother, I guessed to try to make amends for ruining her plans for him. I decided to hit the gym, I was still weak and I needed to start building my strength back.
After just one hour in the gym it became obvious that it would take me a while to get back to my level. My body was in bad shape and I could only push it so far, so I focused instead on training my mind. The suppressor that I had while captured had had me feeling incomplete, disable. It wasn’t until I lost my telekinesis that I discovered how much I depended on it, even if I didn’t use it all the time. I practiced a bunch of little tricks, nothing hard or difficult, but that left me exhausted nonetheless.
I went for a quick shower and was surprised to find the place empty. It was one of those hours between shifts when everyone was busy so I had the bathrooms to myself. I took advantage of the solitude to examine myself in front of the mirror.
I almost didn’t recognize the girl in front of me. The scars on my face drew my attention first. One ran from my forehead to the side and ended in my neck. Another cut across my lips from my cheek to my chin. A smaller one ran from forehead to cheek, cutting my eyebrow. My body was also filled with scars, big and small. The worse was a big one that ran from collarbone to navel, leaving a grotesque scar. Feeling them and seeing them was different, I felt overwhelmed, and I started to cry. I knew that I should wear my scars as war trophies, but it was just a reminder of my failures.
“What’s wrong?” I haven’t noticed anyone entering, so I was startled by Agis question.
“Is nothing” I lied as I covered my body with a towel.
It was pointless to lie to Agis, I was careless because I thought I was alone, I had left my thought unguarded and he, being a telepath, should have heard everything. It wasn’t correct to let one of my subordinates caught me in a moment of weakness.
He was getting out of the shower as well, his body still covered with drops of water, his hair clung to his body. He walked to me and embraced me, the heat of his body and his smell filling me with thoughts that I caught too late to avoid him reading. He pulled out just enough to take my face in his hands and kiss me. I was immediately aroused by his kiss and his proximity, Agis was after all a very attractive man. But I couldn’t force him to be with me no matter how much I wanted him, I didn’t believe he could desire me.
“Stop,” I forced myself to push him away, “I can’t ask this from you.” I had every right as his superior to order him to please me, to have sex with me, but as Cervo had told me once, to force someone to do something they didn’t desired could only create resentment and it could be bad in the long term. In the battle field you need to have beside you someone willing to give their lives for you, not someone who would be happy to get rid of you.
“Why not?” He asked as he got closer to me again.
“I know that you would prefer to be with Echrad” I had seen them together a bunch of times, “she’s prettier than me.” Even before my visit to the Creators Clan and the carving they had done on my flesh. And Echrad had more in common with him, they both were telepaths.
“I liked you since the beginning,” he confessed, “but I thought that you weren’t interested. But now that I see that you think I’m attractive and since I think you are gorgeous we shouldn’t hold back,” he kissed me again, with such intensity that he left me breathless and without further objections.
He carried me to one of the private showers and closed the door behind him. Being with Agis wasn’t like anything I had experienced before. Lamia was right about telepaths, being with someone who could read your mind and know exactly what you desired could take sex to a whole new level.
Being with him was just what I needed, it helped me to push some of my insecurities away. I left him with a better image of myself, if he wanted me so much, maybe I wasn’t such a hideous sight after all. It was just the perfect finish to a day full of surprises.
As captain I had a new, bigger room. I returned to our quarters and went directly to my bed, I was exhausted but satisfied, so I easily fell asleep. In the morning Dux went to my room and together we went for breakfast. The rest of the captains didn’t give me a warm welcome so I was thankful for Dux’s presence, I didn’t have to worry about the others just yet.
After breakfast Dux went out for his rounds while I went looking for my subordinates. When I arrived to the quarters I found all of them gathered in the common area, I was surprised to find with them a girl with long, long black hair. She was seated and her hair pooled on the floor behind her. In our society the only people who dared use long hair where those who were sure of their fighting prowess, who could be sure that their hair wouldn’t be a distraction or disadvantage in a fight. But with that girl in particular, it had another meaning.
Kozlak was at the back of the group and he looked amused, the rest of the group was angry. My subordinates had a very hostile attitude and when I went closer to them I noticed why.
“I really don’t get you guys, if I knew you were just throwing ranks like that I would have arrived earlier.” I didn’t know if she was unaware of the reaction she was getting or if she just didn’t care. “I mean, I could easily beat that little girl, seriously, she’s just a kid!”
I made a signal to my subordinates so they wouldn’t react to my presence as I stealthily approached the girl. As she continued bad mouthing me, I got near her. I knew that as a biokinetic, she should be aware of my proximity, but she didn’t bother to acknowledge my presence, it was part of the game. I stopped behind her and put my arm around her neck, I hold her tight, but without putting pressure on her.
“Is not appropriate to speak that way about your superiors, officer Inionri,” I told her, “or is lieutenant now?”
“Is lieutenant, isn’t that awesome?” she said excited.
“You shouldn’t be talking nonsense” I reprimanded her as I let her go, “not everyone gets your weird sense of humor.”
“It’s not nonsense,” she said as she turned to face me, she was going to say something else but as she saw me the words froze on her lips as her happy face changed to one of horror. “What did they do to you?” she whispered, suddenly afraid to speak up. She touched my face, lightly, as if afraid to hurt me. Her fingers followed my scars and suddenly I felt my face burning, I tried to break the contact but I couldn’t, my body wasn’t responding to me. I saw on Inionri’s face an angry red line drawing itself, mirroring my scar. Her hand trembled and the contact finally broke, she fell, but Kozlak was close and caught her before she hit the floor.
“What the hell…?” I lifted my hand to touch my scar, but as I felt my face I couldn’t feel it, my face was smooth where the line should be. “What did you do?”
“An experiment,” she answered between yawns, “I never suspected that facial reconstruction was so tiring.”
“Why?” I didn’t understand what had happened.
“Well dear, you are ugly enough without the scars, it just too cruel to let you go around with that graffiti on your face.”
“I asked you not to stop talking nonsense.” I wasn’t sure how biokinesis worked, but I did know that for someone like her who specialized in controlling her own body applying her powers in others was difficult, even dangerous. “You are an idiot,” I told her as I embraced her, “you shouldn’t do things like this without first thinking about the consequences to you.”
“Does someone knows what is going on?” asked Ratri.
“Inionri is our cousin,” answered Kozlak. “If I remember correctly Lamia and Inionri are Kaiserin usual sidekicks during the heir reunion.”
“And what about all the crap she was saying about Kaiserin just a moment ago?” Ratri was angry and outraged.
“Like Kaiserin just said, she has a weird sense of humor,” explained Kozlak. “The best you can do is just ignore her, don’t take anything she says seriously.
“You are no fun Kozlak” said Inionri.
“Neither are you my dear” I told her. “What are you doing here by the way?”
“My father sent me here to take Masani’s place in the unit,” she said like it was obvious. “I heard you lost a few members of your unit. Someone has to replace them. Officially your new recruits will be assigned tomorrow, but I wanted to come as soon as possible, I missed you so much,” she yawned again. “Could you tell me which one is my room? I want to take a quick nap.”
“Sleep?” it was weird, Inionri was always so full of energy and sometimes I even wondered if she even slept.
“I need a power nap if I want to finish this,” she said, pointing to my face, “a little bit of food wouldn’t be bad either.”
“Echrad, could you show her her room?”
“Of course.” She didn’t look happy, but she obeyed.
“I wouldn’t mind going to fetch her some food if that’s ok with you” said Kozlak.
“It would be nice, but I don’t want to let her get her way, you know how she is, she will be unbearable if she thinks she can get what she wants.” Inionri was one year older than me and since the start we had been good friends. But she was hard to deal with and if I wanted this to work I had to start treating her like my subordinate and not my friend. “Let her sleep for a while, we will wake her up in time for her to join us at supper.”
“It would be nice if they assign Lamia to the unit too,” added Kozlak as an afterthought. I knew why Kozlak wanted Lamia close by, but having Lamia and Inionri together was a recipe for disaster.
“Let’s wait to see who else joins us. I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”
I went for my assignments, I expected to see my mother, but I was received by a colonel, he introduced me to my new recruits. Besides Inionri I had another familiar face with me: Vikomt. And a new one: Pisacha.
Once I had a full unit I just needed my new orders. I prepared myself to find out what was expected of me. My new job was going to be as internal security. That meant that my unit would be assigned to the security of the residential area of the Palace, where the empress and generals lived. It also meant that I would be part of the imperial guard, my mother’s personal escort.
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