It had been a year since I had become part of my mother’s escort. It had been a very interesting year. I had learned a lot about the government by being at my mother’s side and watching her work day after day. I think that was what my mother and Cerridwen wanted for me.
After a while I had stopped watching over meals and started to watch over reunions and meetings. One of the advantages of my position is that I got to find about things that most people didn’t have access to. I was always aware of what was going on in every corner of the empire. I knew about the problems caused by Rebel Clans, complaints from the Allied Clans or everyday issues like supplies or provisions. I was privy to interesting situations, like that of one day, almost at the end of the audience hours, when an individual entered the throne room.
“Who are you and what do you want?” asked my mother.
“My name is Izbran, I am the leader of a newly formed Clan, we call ourselves the Naturalist Clan.”
“I have heard about you,” my mother said, “you are part of the Carrions Clan.”
“We were part of them, most of the people from my Clan were at one point part of that Clan, but we are no longer part of them, we do not share their visions, we want to be part of the empire.”
“What do you have to offer the empire?”
“Most of my people use zoopathy or clorokinesis. We have a strong connection with nature. We could help you with your food reserves; we could increase your harvest, work for you.”
“It sounds good, but I don’t want to be some Clan’s bodyguard. I know you are running away from your former Clan, do you think I will give you my protection in exchange of the possibility of a little bit of food? You don’t even own your own territory.”
“You rule over a vast territory, surely you could find a place where we could live. We don’t need protection, we can take care of ourselves. We just need an opportunity to prove our worth.”
“There are rules,” my mother said as she left her throne, “any Clan who wishes to be an ally to the Imperial Clan must be recognized from at least five different clans already into the alliance and have personal alliances with at least three of them. Or you could become a Clan controlled by the Imperial Clan, but for that you must be totally dependent on us, governed by a colonel from our Clan.”
“If that is what it takes, I…” Izbran started to say but he was interrupted.
“You don’t have a territory, I won’t waste my land and my soldiers just so you can satisfy your necessities. You may return when you have something useful to offer me.” My mother started towards the exit but she was intercepted my Izbran.
“Please empress, let me show you what I can do.”
The aggressive manners of the visitor made us move, there wasn’t need for the use of force, yet, but we positioned ourselves in a way that showed that we could act anytime we wanted.
“Is that a challenge?” My mother asked.
“If that is what I need to get your attention, yes, it’s a challenge” answered Izbran, he was getting desperate.
“You are not worth the time I would waste in teaching you a lesson,” my mother told him, “but I admire your tenacity. I no longer need your services,” she said to us, “you can have the rest of your shift free.”
Izbran was as surprised by her words as us. We just stared at each other not knowing exactly what to do. She wasn’t expecting us to leave her alone with him, was she?
“Kaiserin” she gestured me to approach her. “I won’t waste my time with you, but I will give you an opportunity,” she told Izbran, “if you defeat my daughter, I will consider to give you and your Clan an opportunity.”
This time I was startled. Izbran, the leader of the Naturalist Clan looked at me and I could see in his face disappointment, and how little he thought of me. Before either one of us could say something the empress was out of the room.
“Is this some kind of joke?” asked Izbran as he looked around trying to figure out what had happened.
“The empress doesn’t do jokes.” Answered Rani.
“I think that the question we should ask is: Do you accept the challenge?” I tried to look confident, to be what my mother wanted me to be.
“I didn’t come here to be insulted.” He barked at me, but there was no bite in his voice.
The rest of the escort moved away, giving us space to fight if he decided to.
“If this is what is required of me I will accept” he finally said, “I hope you don’t regret to take part of this game.”
“I just follow orders” I said, “zoopathy or clorokinesis, neither one is going to help you right now, would you like a weapon?” Above the throne there were two swords hanging on the wall, I had used them before, I knew their position, weight and shape so I didn’t have to see them to move them with my mind. I extended my hand to receive the sword flying to me and put the other sword inside his reach if he decided to take it.
“Don’t take it, it’s a trap,” Rani told him, “that sword is contaminated with her energy, Kaiserin has control over it, it won’t work for you.”
“If you think that I need to use tricks like that to win you don’t know me at all” I yelled at Rani.
“I don’t need any kind of help” answered Izbran, “and you shouldn’t underestimate me kid” I heard a buzz, the noise was getting louder. Suddenly the room started filling with wasps, from all the windows an endless flow of insects was entering. Izbran was smiling mischievously. “You can take your swords, but I don’t think those will help you in this battle.”
The swarm was moving towards me. I knew that I would be in trouble as soon as they reached me, a couple of bites were no problem, but with the number of insects the bites could be deadly if I let them reached me.
“You were going to fight Sultana with bugs?” I asked in disbelief, I knew that my mother’s winds were strong enough to kill the insects. I just hoped I would be able to do something similar to defend myself.
I had been told that in order to control something you cannot see you have to feel it, know it. I took control of the air around me and wrapped it around me like a blanket, and I did it just in time, the wasps were already hitting the barrier around me. I couldn’t just stay still, I needed to find a way to fight the bugs. I decided to trap them with an air current and throw them against the walls, hoping it would at least confuse them long enough for me to fight back.
I dropped the barrier and conjured the air current, I thought it would work, the bugs had been trapped, but I had forgotten that the wasps were the weapon, not the enemy. Izbran’s fist hit me, cutting my concentration. I lost control just for a second, but it was enough for a few wasps to reach me.
The first bites were like hot coals digging into my skin, it was extremely painful. I started to slap the insects, trying to kill those already on me, but there were too many for that to work.
I formed a whirlwind around me, trying to suck the wasps into the strong air currents. At the same time I fought off Izbran’s attack. Every time I dodged or punched him the force of the whirlwind dwindled. When I felt like I had enough control I hit Izbran with all my strength, throwing him to the floor away from me. Taking advantage of respite from Izbran’s attack I concentrated on the bugs and threw them to the wall. Confused they dropped to the floor, but the increasing buzzing indicated that they were still alive. A few of them started flying again. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep fighting him like that, I needed to neutralize his weapon. Using my mind, I tore a piece of the wooden floor and dropped it on the wasps, killing most of them in the process.
“No!” Izbran screamed, I turned in time to see him running at me with the sword he had previously rejected on his hand.
I had to stop him before he could take control of the surviving wasps or summon more, so I grabbed him with my mind and tossed him up to the ceiling, hitting it and then falling down. I approached him; he was unconscious and had a few broken bones. The few remaining wasps started to fly around without direction, some of them found the windows and got out.
“Show off” called Rani from behind me. “I swore that if I didn’t know that you are a Maxima I would believe you are an Amon, sometimes it looks as if you are using a double mind.”
“I think that I found the way to alter my powers and my movements in a way I can mimic your ability” I explained.
“Yeah, that must be it.”
“Good job Kaiserin” Maddan congratulated me.
“Thanks,” I closed the distance between us and taking the collar of his uniform pulled him closer to me. “Can you do me a favor?”
“Anything you want,” he said, placing his hands on my hips.
“Take the leader of the Naturalists Clan to the infirmary while I go find my mother to tell her what happened” I whispered in his ear, then I took a step back watching the disappointment on his face. I kissed him on the lips and then broke the embrace and walked away.
I guessed based on the time that my mother was in the dining room, so I went there and found her eating with Shahzadi and Kamose.
“How did you do?” asked my mother as soon as she saw me.
“He controls bugs, a swarm of wasps filled the throne room.” I extended my arms to show the bites. “I have at least a dozen bites.”
“So a pseudo leader of a bunch of misfits that call themselves a Clan gave you a hard time?” Kamose mocked me.
“He didn’t give me a hard time, he just took more time that I initially thought to deal with, but now he must be on his way to the infirmary. I hope it’s ok that I asked for him to be taken there, he was in bad shape after our fight.”
“Don’t worry, you did the right thing, if we broke him we must fix him,” my mother said. “Sit, eat with us.” She signaled the slaves to bring another plate to the table.
It had been a long time since I had stopped worrying about what my peers could think about the times I ate with my mother, so I just took a seat besides Shahzadi and prepared to enjoy myself.
“I was thinking mother, and if you allow me, I would like to make a suggestion.”
“Do you remember the territory that was attacked by the Rebels a couple of months ago? The one located near sector 3?”
The territory used to be a beautiful jungle, but after a great battle most of the territory was burned down. It was part of the imperial territory, but it wasn’t inhabited since before the battle that destroyed it.
“I think I know which one you are referring to, the one where the fires burned down acres of jungle.”
“Don’t you think it would be a good place to test the Naturalists?” my mother and Shahzadi stopped eating and stared at me. “The place is virtually destroyed, you can leave them there for a year as a test, if they survive and fix the place we win, if it turns out to be too difficult for them and they leave the place or die while trying to fix it, it won’t affect us.”
“The little girl wants to play to be you,” said Kamose. “What if they decide they don’t like the place and attack us?” he asked.
“The place is isolated and any movement can be detected easily by neighboring posts, even when it was a jungle, that’s one of the reasons the Rebel attack failed in the first place. The sentries from sector 3 detected the attack before it was a threat to the sector, it would be the same now. Especially now that they don’t have the jungle to cover them.
“You know, is not such a bad idea,” said Shahzadi, “we would solve two problems at the same time, if things work out we can have a new ally.”
“It could work,” my mother agreed, “I will think about this while the Clan leader is recovering. How long do you think is going to be?”
“Well, I dropped him from a few feet of height. If he broke both legs it will be a few weeks, but if it was just his arms, he could be discharged in a few days.”
“Fine, I’ll send someone later to check on him.”
The fact that my mother was even considering my proposal was exciting. After eating I went looking for my unit, I was so distracted by what had happened that I didn’t see the man walking and I almost crashed into him.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized as I looked at him. He was an older man with intense blue eyes. I felt a painful pressure at the back of my neck and my stomach flipped over.
“Be more careful little girl” the man told me. I was dizzy and for a moment I even thought I was going to pass out, but I recovered. By then the man was no longer there, I had no idea what had caused my spell.
The next day generals from different parts of the empire started to arrive. In a couple of days all of those who were going to come were already in the Palace. As part of the empress escort I was present in the reunions between the empress and the generals. I didn’t remember a reunion like that, I was worried because the attacks from the Rebels Clans were increasing.
There were a lot of telepaths on the room, so it wasn’t strange to feel discomfort, to feel the pressure on the back of my neck. Telepaths of the level present, generals, always had their power active, always looking for any stray thought. But something was not quite right. I started to feel tired, then my body started to feel numb, a voice inside me started to tell me that everything would be fine once She was dead. It was too late when I finally noticed the signs, when I pieced the puzzle together, I was already under mind control, I had already lost my free will. With increasing panic I noticed my hand moving towards the holster on my hip, gripping my gun.
All of my attention was focused on my mother, I knew I was about to shoot her, probably kill her, but I couldn’t do anything to avoid it. Someone had taken control of my mind and I couldn’t fight back that control. My hand freed the gun from the holster, no one was paying me any attention. The generals and my mother had a heated argument about recent attacks, they were unconcerned about what happened around them. I heard the countdown on my mind, ten, nine, eight, I knew what was going to happen when the countdown ended, seven, six, five, I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t help it, four, three, two… in an act out of desperation, I forced my mind to push my mother out of the way, just as my hand raised and fired at the chair where she had been seated just a fraction of a second before.
My gun wasn’t the only one that was fired, around me the others escorts were also holding recently fired guns in their hands. It was chaos, the generals raised and some of them ran to my mother to check on her while others turned on the escorts. Kamose was in front of me, staring at me.
I felt my hand moving again, this time the gun was pointing at my temple and I knew that I was going to blow my head off. “Someone is controlling me” I wanted to scream, but the words were caught in my throat, I wanted Kamose to listen to me, “I’m not the one doing this,” I wanted to say, to communicate. I was going to die, but at least I wanted Kamose to know that it wasn’t my intention to harm my mother, I had no option. Kamose face changed, she looked startled, had he read my mind? Did he know what I was trying to say?
“Did you push her out of the way.” I felt Kamose presence in my mind.
“I didn’t want to kill her,” I tried to explain, but my time was over. I felt my finger squeezing the trigger. At the last moment Kamose grabbed my hand as I shoot saving me, he then took my gun away from me, then I felt a hit on my head and lost consciousness.
When I recovered I found myself in the middle of scene of absolute chaos. More of my mother’s bodyguards had been drawn by the shoots. Sultana’s siblings had surrounded her like a protective wall while a bunch of generals apparently led by Kamose had surrounded one general. I recognize the man as the one I had crossed on the hallway a couple of days before.
I could see them talking, but I couldn’t hear them, the shot still rang in my ears, all I could hear was a buzz. I saw the generals taking my mother out of the room, Tepes at one side, Osiris on the other. Shahzadi went to Kamose. One captain approached me and lifted me by the arm, he was talking to me and I guessed he wanted me to follow him. I wanted to go to my mother, but as I had just shot her I didn’t think it was a good idea.
I was taken to my room at the Palace, the one I used when I was off duty. I sat on the bed and reflected about what had happened. Someone had used mind control on my mother’s escort, that much was obvious. I remembered the scene and reflected that all members of the escort during the shift were either Maximas of Vlads. The escort was always rotating in composition so no one had bothered to notice something as simple as that, but I was sure that it wasn’t by chance, someone had planned it, someone had tried to kill Sultana.
After what felt like hours someone entered my room; Kamose.
“How did you do that?” he asked.
“I…” how should I explain to him that I had no control?
“Since when can you use telepathy?” for a second I thought that I had misunderstood his question.
“I can’t, I’m a telekinetic” he already knew that.
“You did, you talked to me, your mind reached mine and I heard you talking to me.”
“I don’t know, I don’t understand anything” I was scared and confused. Kamose sat next to me.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself for what happened, there was no way you could resist Lucius, it was difficult even for us to fight him, he was well prepared. His only mistake was to overlook your double mind,” he put his hand over mine, “because there no doubt about it, you couldn’t have done what you did without it. If you wouldn’t use your telekinesis to push Sultana out of the way she would be dead by now.”
I was seated next to him on the bed, but at the same time, like a double vision I was standing in front of him.
“Your mind is a beautiful place,” the Kamose standing in front of me said, we were back on my mental landscape. “Before I can allow you to go near Sultana again we have to make sure there nothing of Lucius left in your mind. Do you see anything out of place in here?”
I didn’t need to see to know there was something out of place, I guided Kamose to a place that didn’t feel right. It was like a pond, a dark, cold little oasis. Kamose explained me how to get rid of it and as the pond dried off it took a shape similar to that of Lucius.
“It’s a back door, it was disguised so you didn’t recognize immediately what it was, it was how he managed to control your mind,” he explained, “now that it’s no longer here it would be extremely difficult for him to assume control over you again.”
“What will happen to the other escorts?” Five of us were always assigned to Sultana’s protection.
“The others are already dead, apparently the order Lucius gave you was to shoot Sultana and then shoot yourselves. You were about to do that.”
“Yeah, but you save me” I still felt his hand over mine moving the gun. “Thanks.”
Kamose left me and I stayed there thinking about everything. Thinking about those who had died, and about my own survival. Tears started running down my face, I cried for the teammates that I would never see again, I cried until sleep found me.
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