It was easy to adjust to my new routine. The best part was at night, before going to sleep, it was then that Inionri worked on my scars. She used the excuse of training, but I knew that she was doing it for me. Sometimes I pay a visit to Agis before going to bed and sometimes I spent the night with him. When I stayed with him I had to wake up a little earlier so I could go to change and be ready in time for my shift.
I arrived on time to the gathering point, but the rest of the captains were angry at me. They resented me for surviving when all the other captains had died on the mission. They especially resented the fact that Boreas was dead and a young girl like me was taking his place. They, like many other, though that my position was due to my mother’s whims and not to my personal merits.
I kind of understood them, most of them were part of her escort since before I left the Burrows, for them I was not only an opportunist, but an inexpert soldier. I remembered them, they were the warriors that had impressed me so much when I first arrived to the Palace, it was so bizarre that I was part of them.
“You spent the night out again.” It wasn’t a question, he was stating the facts.
“And that’s your problem because…?” Maddan was just looking for an excuse to fight me, he was always picking fights with me.
“It’s not the time for fighting, we have to go,” ordered Bajang.
At least five escorts had to be near the empress at all times, one group was already with her during her morning routine, but we were going to relieve them and look after Sultana during her breakfast. We entered the room and took our positions around the room. Shahzadi was the first to appear, followed, to my surprise, by Lobishomen. I had to let Kozlak know that his father was there, I was sure he didn’t know about it. None of them acknowledged my presence. While I was on duty, I was just a soldier, not different from a wall fixture to them. Not long after Shahzadi, arrived my mother, she looked upset. Behind her, Kamose entered the room, followed by Caracalla and Trajan.
I guessed that Kamose had not informed them about my promotion based on the reaction I got from them.
“What is she doing here?” asked Caracalla.
“Don’t pay attention to her, just ignore her,” answered Kamose, doing a good job of ignoring me himself.
But Caracalla was not going to ignore me, he grabbed a plate with fruits from the table and threw it at me.
I wasn’t allowed to move. Not unless the Empress was in danger, we were watchers, statues. But I didn’t need to move my body, using just my mind, I grabbed the plate and the fruits flying towards me and put them back on the table.
It all happened in seconds, the adults were surprised by Caracalla’s reaction.
“I thought I had already asked you to teach your son proper behavior before bringing him to my presence again,” my mother’s voice was perfectly calm, but there was an edge on it, an unspoken threat.
“I assure you it won’t happen again,” Kamose forcibly sat Caracalla with his back to me.
The rest of the breakfast was quiet, but the air was charged with tension. They talked about the test that had taken place a few days earlier and about the heirs’ reunion coming in just a few days, that was the reason for Caracalla and Trajan’s presence. I listened as they talked about the reunion of the Allied Clans, of the different clans that were going to attend and the generals that were going to be present. The treason of the Creators Clan was already known by the whole empire, Kamose had already ruled the involvement of other clans, but the reunion that year was important because it would remind them of our Clans absolute rule and power.
As Kamose and his sons were leaving I saw Trajan looking at me and mouthing the words ‘congratulations’ at me. My mother also left the room and we followed her to the arena at the end of the Burrows’ exit. She took her jacket off and faced us.
“I have an hour before I had to start working and I need to release some stress” my mother announced with calm. “Who’s brave enough to volunteer to spar with me?”
These training sessions were part of our job description, but most of the captains were intimidated by Sultana and avoided fighting with her. Maddan wasn’t afraid, he was the first to volunteer. He was strong, and fast, but my mother threw him easily with her air, preventing him from getting close enough to attack her, his mind powers weren’t affecting her. After an especially strong hit I decided to take Maddan’s place before he got injured.
The air hit didn’t take long, but I had been practicing and was prepared, the air didn’t hit me, it was redirected to my sides. I was able to dodge or redirect most of her attacks, but I was taking all my energy in defending and wasn’t attacking her. I got caught between the different air currents she was using to attack me, I was hiding in a bubble of my own creation, but it wasn’t enough to protect me from an air current that hit me like a fist and messed with my concentration, leaving me to the mercy of her air whirlpool. Before I sustained significant damage the air ceased and I fell to the floor.
Noto, Boreas’s brother took my place as Sultana’s opponent. My mother’s repertoire was endless. No matter how we tried to attack, she had something prepared for each of us. Time flew by and before long we had to escort her to the throne room. Another group was waiting there to take over, we left and went to take care of our individual assignments. After spending a while in the gym, I took my lunch break with Dux and a few other captains and then went to my unit for training.
I started training with my group. Inionri had surprised more than one with the creative uses of her biokinesis. She used her power to control her hair, it became a powerful weapon to immobilize or attack those dumb enough to get into her range. Pisacha, another new recruit also used biokinesis, but in a very different way, she could cause injuries just by touching her opponents. It was a scary ability, especially when you added the fact that she could make you sick with just a touch. As a way to minimize risks I usually preferred training without the use of powers. We were in the middle of training when I heard someone entering the training arena. Since we had the place assigned to us every day at the same time there was no reason for anyone to come in.
I was startled when I realized Shahzadi and Lobishomen were the ones joining us.
“Attention!” I called my group. “Form up, we have generals among us.”
The soldiers in my unit left their training and formed a line, then they bowed to acknowledge our visitors and show them respect. I was waiting for training to end before letting Kozlak know about his father being in the Palace so he was surprised to find his father there.
“How can we be of help?” I humbly asked Shahzadi.
“Lobishomen wants to talk to Kozlak, and I need a few words with you,” she answered.
I signaled Kozlak to step forward and prepared to listen to Shahzadi, but she wasn’t talking, she was observing her son, so I did the same, just in time. As Kozlak stepped forward I saw Lobishomen walking to him, when he was close he raised his fist and was about to hit a startled Kozlak. I didn’t have much time to react, but I conjured an energy wall between them to protect Kozlak, it was a trick I had practiced for me, I didn’t know how effective it would be protecting another person.
The clash between Lobishomen’s fist and my energy wall rang through the room. I didn’t know who was more surprised; Lobishomen because his fist hasn’t made contact with Kozlak or Kozlak for being unscathed.
“With all due respect, I ask you to restrain yourself from attacking my subordinates.” Lobishomen’s strength was beyond my expectations and I wasn’t sure I could resist another hit. He was stronger than Oslo was, Oslo being a mutant, but remembering Lobishomen’s power I guessed that Shahzadi must have been empowering him.
“You should know better than to mess with your superiors business,” told me Lobishomen. He was angry and for a moment I was afraid, but my job was to guide and protect.
“Sir, right now you are off duty,” I pointed to his missing insignia, “if you are off duty you don’t represent the Clan’s interests and I don’t have to follow your directions.”
“Are you trying to pick a fight with me?” I knew that I was no match for him.
“Of course not Sir, that’s why I’m asking you to please don’t harm my subordinates.”
“Shahzadi?” he turned to Shahzadi expecting her to back him up, she was wearing her insignia, and I had to obey her if she ordered me to stay out of his way.
“She’s right, you are off duty and she is only doing her work,” she shrugged and looked at Lobishomen, “I told you, it’s difficult to stay mad when you see that Kaiserin is actually doing a good job as captain.”
“Kozlak should be this unit’s captain,” Lobishomen reminded her.
“I’m sorry father” Kozlak finally joined the discussion, “I know this is not what we had planned, but it seemed like the right choice at the moment.”
“At the moment? Do you regret your decision?” asked Lobishomen.
“Of course not father, I’m sure I took the right decision, now more than ever.” Kozlak’s support meant the world to me. I couldn’t help but to admire him for standing up to his parents, I knew how difficult it was.
“This is a formal petition for Kozlak to be out of service for a couple of days,” Shahzadi extended an envelope to me. “Your group has a high percentage of heirs,” she added, “that includes you.” She produced more envelopes and gave them to me. “Geb, Agis, Inionri and you also will have to be excused. You’re lucky that Vikomt’s father won’t be here and that Echrad mother is no longer here to make the petition or you would have even less elements in your unit to work with. You will have to find a way to be able to cover your obligation with just half your staff. You will have tomorrow free, but unless you find a proper substitute you will have to work the day past tomorrow. Understood?”
“Yes, I understand.” I took the envelopes from her I thought about my options.
“When you finish your training, look for me. You know where to find me.” Lobishomen told Kozlak before following Shahzadi out of the room.
“Thanks” Kozlak told me once his parents were out, “but I think you just delayed the inevitable.”
“He’s mad at you because of me, is my fault, so I had to do something.” I studied the envelopes on my hands and thought about Shahzadi’s words. I needed to plan for the next few days. “I think that we are finished for today. I will see you later at your quarters.”
I spent a while scheduling the next two days, trying to make it work with half the people. After I finished, I went to see my unit at their quarters. I arrived in time to see Agis and Geb fighting. Inionri was sitting, watching them like they were a spectacle for her amusement, without a worry about her teammate’s integrity. I used my mind to stop the fight, separating them with my powers.
“What’s going on here?” I asked.
“Nothing, you have nothing to worry about.” Agis smiled at me, using the smile he used just for me, the one that made me forget everything and wish to be alone with him. For a moment I almost forgot about the problem and let Agis drag me to his room.
“Nothing.” Repeated Geb, but his face told me a different thing, he was furious and I knew that if he had the chance he would jump Agis again.
“Just jealousy” said Inionri. “Agis is bragging about how you spend your nights with him and not paying any attention to poor Geb.”
“Don’t be silly Inionri.” She was being irrational, what she said was impossible. There were a lot of beautiful women, why would they fight over me? I let them go and as soon as my power allowed him Geb ran to his room. Agis made his way to me with a seductive smile on his face. “No, not now, go to your room.” I couldn’t deal with him, I knew that as soon as he touched me, kissed me, I would forget everything and I needed a clear mind to deal with the problem.
“Are you sure that’s what you really want?” Agis smile was promising and I knew that what I really wanted was him.
“Yes, I’m sure” I forced myself to answer. Once he left I sat in front of Inionri. “What the hell did you mean by that?”
“My dear, dear cousin, you may be strong and kind of smart for some things, but for others… I can’t believe that you don’t see how they lust after you. You are so sure that Agis is the only one you can get that you don’t notice how the others see you.”
“But you always say that…”
“What? That you are ugly?” interrupted Inionri. “Simple? Dumb?” she sighted and her hair started to float, like it was under water. “This,” she pointed to her beautiful hair, “is the only thing that makes me especial, you have many, many things that make you especial. You are pretty, beautiful even, strong, capable and an heiress. If you just believe in yourself, if you could see yourself through the eyes of your admirers.”
“You just say that because you are my friend.”
“That’s right, I’m your friend and your family and it’s my job to tell you the truth. Now, if you really don’t have any interests in Geb just tell me, I could go and comfort him.” Her words were more a challenge, she wanted me to go to Geb, but would it be the right thing to do? I had to think about it.
I spent the night in my room at the Palace’s residential area. I woke up and went for breakfast, I found my mother on my way to the dining room.
“I’m glad to see you here, I wasn’t sure if Shahzadi had given you my message” my mother said.
“She is mad at me, isn’t she?”
“Not really, is just that she expected Kozlak to be a captain before you, he’s older and has more experience. But don’t worry, she’s happy about your promotion.”
We arrived at the dining room and had an awkward breakfast. Kozlak was seated beside his parents, Trajan was besides Kamose. Caracalla wasn’t there, maybe he had wanted to avoid another encounter with me or maybe Kamose had decided to keep him away to avoid further conflict with Sultana.
On my way to the throne room for the heir reunion, I ran into Inionri and Lamia, they were waiting for me so we could arrive together. We entered the throne room and found everything as it always was. Even Caracalla was the same, surrounded by his cronies and trying to bully the younger into obedience. On the other side the heirs from the Allied Clans and the older heirs from our Clan were gathered, ignoring Caracalla.
“Bothering the little ones Caracalla?” I was getting tired of him and his abusive behavior. I wasn’t going to let him keep abusing the younger ones.
“Let me alone Kaiserin, this is none of your business.”
“Don’t listen to him, whatever he said I’m sure he was lying.” I told the young boy Caracalla was bullying.
“Who are you?” the boy asked.
“I’m Kaiserin from the Maxima family.”
“Go away, leave me alone,” ordered Caracalla.
“Stop acting so mighty Caracalla, you are no one to order me around,” I stood before him, Lamia and Inionri step to my sides and Caracalla answered by signaling his cronies to flank him. There were only three of us, and he had many followers.
“You are at a disadvantage,” he gestured to his group, “we are more than you.”
“It’s not only a matter of numbers, but of strength” Geb said as he joined my group.
Agis and another two Regals left Caracalla’s side and joined mine.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Caracalla was beyond angry at his desertion.
“I’m sorry Caracalla, but I think is time we join the winning team,” said Agis. Him and the other two weren’t part of Caracalla’s entourage, but usually hang around him like all the other telepaths. Now they were stating a claim, joining my side.
Kozlak and Dux appeared after that and little by little my side grew in size until it was as large as or larger than Caracalla’s.
“Do you think that just because you got yourself a few bodyguards you are better than me?” he asked, angry because his advantage had disappeared.
“I’m not the one who likes to hide behind others. If you think you are better than me, why don’t you and I resolve this ourselves?”
“I won’t waste my time or energy with you” instead of fighting me he backed down.
“Coward,” accused Lamia.
“Maybe is better this way,” said Agis, “you had never seen him fight and may think he is weak and a coward, but the truth is that he is strong, incredibly so.”
“If I didn’t know you better I would think you are scared of him Agis.” Joked Kozlak.
“I am scared,” said Agis seriously.
I had always wondered why Caracalla had so many followers. Maybe Agis was right and behind his façade was something more than words and empty threats.
The rest of the reunion proceeded with a tense calmness. Dux and Net introduced me to some of the heirs from the Allied Clans, while Lamia and Inionri laughed at me and what they called a lack of relationship awareness. At the end the day was a good one, an opportunity to spend time with my equals without having to worry about my responsibilities.
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