I was exhausted, but I had finally controlled myself enough for me to go look for my mother. I felt the eyes of the soldiers in the hallways on me, accusing, blaming. For a while I thought that they were going to drag me to the dungeons, but no one stopped me and after a short walk I was in my mother’s antechambers.
The place was full, most of my mother’s siblings were there, at least the generals that were present when the attack. As soon as I entered they all glared at me.
“Is it safe for her to be here?” asked Adze.
“Kamose told me it was ok, there no trace of Lucius influence on her anymore” my mother said.
“Do we really trust Kamose?” asked Tepes in a tone that said that at least he didn’t.
“Of course we trust Kamose” my mother sounded offended.
“I don’t think you can give an objective opinion on that particular subject” said Vajira.
“If Kamose wanted me dead, I would be dead. If he was part of this attack there no way I would have survived. He was the first I suspect of Kaiserin’s double mind, he would never be careless enough to have her in my service if he was working with Lucius.
“What do you mean her double mind?” asked Osiris as he stared through narrowed eyes.
“After what happened with the Creators Clan Kamose and Cerridwen formed the theory that Kaiserin has the double mind that usually just the Amons or Regals have. Kamose even suggested that she had the potential to be a telepath.”
“Nonsense.” Said Khreb, Inionri’s father.
“I believe it,” said Jomei, the regal that claimed to have the same abilities as a Maxima.
“It could be” added Vezir, “my daughter Rani says that Kaiserin fights like an Amon. It may be some truth in her words. And we can’t ignore what happened earlier. It is true that she attacked Sultana, but someone pushed Sultana out of harm’s way and many agree that it was her.”
“It’s easy to say that something is impossible just because it’s impossible for you” I heard Cerridwen talking behind me, then I felt her hands settling on my shoulders, that simple contact made me feel at ease. “We are so concerned with labels; Regal, Amon, Vlad or Maxima, telepath, telekinetic, empath. Sometimes we forget that not everything is so simple, the world is not white and black. If we take the chance to experiment, to take risks, we’ll discover that there are many alternatives, the world have a million possibilities.”
“What are you doing here Cerridwen?” My mother had finally allowed Cerridwen to talk to me, but I could see that she wasn’t happy to see her near me.
“I came to give you a warning empress” I knew what was going to happen next, Cerridwen was going to use that dreamlike voice and her eyes were going to cloud over while she told them her vision. “This was just the beginning, is not an isolated incident, is not about one of your generals deciding to take the throne by force. This is just another piece of the puzzle, is part of the problem that had been occurring in the last months. In the great plains of the north, a great army is being gathered by the New World Clan, the Military Clan and the Amazons Clan. They have summoned dozens of smaller Rebels Clans and together they have an army bigger than any our Clan had faced in the last few decades. The empire’s destiny is going to be decided in one battle, a battle that won’t end until the blood of a hundred thousand soldiers soak the earth, or the blood of a person worth a hundred thousand lives is sacrificed.
“No one is worth that many lives,” said my mother, “every life is valuable and necessary.”
“Then you have to prepare yourself to see your soldiers die.”
“Do you think Lucius knew about this?” asked Shahzadi.
“Lucius conspired with those Clans to facilitate the attack. The idea of killing Sultana was more a distraction so they could gather their forces before we could stop them” Cerridwen explained them, “Lucius was expecting to get control of whatever was left of the Clan after the war and along the leaders of the New World, Military and Amazon’s Clans obtain the control of the continent.”
“It sounds so crazy” declared Tepes.
“But it kind of makes sense if we take previous incidents into account” reflected Shahzadi.
“How long do we have?” asked my mother.
“Their attack is scheduled to begin in two weeks” informed Cerridwen.
“Just when all the generals and colonels would have been here at the Palace deciding who would succeed Sultana as empress if the assassination attempt had been successful.” Isis left the chair where she had been seated and addresses her siblings and Tepes. “It was a perfect timing. We would have been at our most vulnerable, an easy prey.”
“But they failed and now we have the advantage,” said Sultana, “we need to call the rest of the generals and summon our allies. If the Rebels want a war we will give them war.”
Cerridwen took me back to the hallway and I couldn’t hear the rest of their conversation. I hadn’t had the opportunity to ask my mother for forgiveness.
“That is not your place Kaiserin” Cerridwen told me when we were out. “Not yet.”
“Shouldn’t you be there with them telling them what to do to win?” I turned to face Cerridwen, she had been a friend and teacher for me, but sometimes I felt as if she was hiding something from me, something important, a secret I should know, that she wanted to tell me but couldn’t. “There must be a way to avoid so many deaths and you must know it. Why don’t you talk straight to them?” A hundred thousand lives of the life of someone worth a hundred thousand lives. Sometimes I hated her and her riddles.
“If things were that easy, anyone could do them. If I told them exactly what to do, they wouldn’t accept it. There are some things you have to figure out by yourself. And that reminds me that I have a favor to ask from you.”
“What do you want?” I asked rudely, I wasn’t trying to be rude, but I was still confused and on edge from everything that had happened.
“Despite what you may think your mother still trusts you and more than that she is proud of you, as is your father. But in the next few weeks a lot of things will happen, there will be great challenges and you will go through very difficult moments. I need you to promise me that no matter what happens, you will not let yourself be consumed by grief” she grabbed me by the arms and locked her eyes on me, she was scaring me with the intensity of her eyes. “No matter what happens you cannot run away, you must not be alone, you cannot hide or run, because if you do, you will condemn yourself to a fate worse than death.
“You are scaring me Cerridwen” she had seen something in my future that had scared her, and now she was scaring me.
“Good, that’s what I need,” she let me go, “but if for some reason you forget my warning, I want you to know that everything will get better, no matter how low you sink, your fire is too bright and it can’t be contained, just a spark will ignite it again and you will be as bright as before.”
“Can you speak clearly?”
“No, I can’t. It’s one of the rules I have to follow as a Seer. We are cursed with the knowledge of the future,” she tenderly touched my face. “Did you know that the first vision of a seer is that of his own death? I know exactly how and when I will die, but that is not so terrible, the really terrible thing is being able to see the future of those you love and know that if you intervene you can make things even worse. I’m giving you this warning because that’s all I can do to protect you. If I give you more information it will only complicate your future and probably make it worse, if that’s even possible. I just want you to know, that as long as you are alive, there’s always a way to make things better, you will doubt my words, but you have to believe me. I’m hoping that my warning is enough, but even if my silence pushes you to the harder path you must know that you are strong enough to overcome any challenge and rise again.”
“I don’t understand what you are saying,” I was getting frustrated and scared by her words.
“I hope that you will when the time comes.”
I left Cerridwen and her riddles and as I returned to my unit I discovered that my involvement in Sultana’s murder attempt had been kept secret. I told my subordinates what had really happened. They weren’t surprised by my own survival, most of them: Ratri, Echrad and Agis had been with me during our encounter with the Creators Clan and knew what I was capable of.
We traveled north to where the Rebels Clans were gathering and during the journey I grew more nervous and scared. Cerridwen’s words kept getting back at me. I wondered who wasn’t going to survive. I also wondered about Kozlak and Geb, they had been promoted and had returned to the sectors where their parents resided, but I wished them to be part of the battle, I wanted to be near them again.
As we approached the place where Cerridwen had told us the enemy would be waiting, the tension of the troops was getting worse. My unit was one of the few tasked with the protection of the Empress and I was riding in the same vehicle as she, along with another three captains. Around our vehicle our units kept a close watch. Echrad’s mind was always alert, keeping an open communication channel between us. We haven’t faced any trouble, but we had to keep alert.
As we arrived our destination the attacks started, minor skirmishes that weren’t a real threat, but gave us an idea of what we were facing. The enemy camp was the biggest one I had seen. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were waiting to attack us. Bombs and missiles rained on us. The sky lit the light of the explosions making the night as clear as day. It became evident that it wasn’t going to be easy. Thanks to Cerridwen and the others seers we had previous knowledge of their earlier plans, but that knowledge wasn’t enough to grant us victory.
By the end of the first day of fighting the casualties on both sides were significative, hundreds of dead bodies laid on the battlefield. The second day was a repeat from the first and my mother was growing restless.
“It seems that the witch’s words will prove to be true once again,” said my mother after receiving a new report with the casualties from the fight. “A hundred thousand lives will be wasted before this madness ends.”
“If that is what it’s required to obtain victory and secure our rule for another few decades, then I think is a fair price to pay” said Kamose.
“I’m supposed to protect my people, I hate to hide in here while they die on the battlefield.” My mother went to the window of the improvised war room. “Do you have news from Tepes’s group?”
“They managed to intercept the group trying to sneak on us, but there were a few casualties on our side” informed Kamose.
“I should be there on the battlefield” my mother repeated.
“Your life is too valuable to risk,” he told her once again.
By the third day the casualties were reaching the thousands and the situation was just getting worse.
“That’s enough” my mother said on the third day, “we can’t go on like this. Call back all the troops, declare a ceasefire.”
“We already tried to talk to them, it didn’t work” said Shahzadi.
“I don’t care, I want all my people out of the battlefield now!” with that she stormed out of the war room, Maddan and I followed her with our respective units around us.
We walked to a mound at the fringe of the camp from where we could see the battlefield and the enemy camp. Little by little the sound of explosions and shooting diminished, but it didn’t stop completely. The sky was clouded, threatening with a vicious storm any moment.
“The job of an empress is to keep her people safe. The time to expand our territory and conquer our neighbors is long gone” my mother wasn’t talking to us, she was talking to herself, but we were listening. “The Rebels Clans are the ones who are not satisfied with the situation and prefer to fight instead of accepting their reality. They remember that one or two generations ago the empire took something they considered theirs and now they want it back. Or they think they are entitled to a certain territory or goods just because they want them or think they need it and they prefer to take it by force instead of negotiate. They are no real leaders, a real leader always takes into account the lives of those who follow them, a real leader would rather die than exchange the blood of his subjects for power and riches. I would rather give my life in exchange of others. Because being the Empress is not a privilege, is a duty. That’s what my father taught me and that’s what I believe.”
“Your Majesty?” Maddan approached her confused by her words.
My mother didn’t say anything else. We stayed there for a while, the clouds and the setting sun had covered the world in darkness, and below us, the lights were being turned on in the camp.
“It’s time to go,” she said. We prepared to return, but I noticed something odd about my mother.
A strong wind started to blow and before we could react I saw my mother’s body being carried away by the air. I tried to use my telekinesis to grab her, but the wind made it difficult to see her and I couldn’t reach her. The wind was increasing velocity and soon she was in the center of a column of air. The whirlwind went up until it touched the clouds above us and a tornado started to form.
I felt my heart racing when I figured out what was happening. A hundred thousand lives or a life worth a hundred thousand lives. Cerridwen had told me that by not saying things directly the person had time to figure things out and accept them. While I watched my mother being carried away by the air I finally understood, there was only one life worth that much, the life of the empress. Sultana, my mother, was going to try to stop the enemy all by herself, and in doing that she was going to destroy herself, exchanging her life for those of their soldiers.
“Maddan, go inform generals Shahzadi and Kamose that the empress is going to try and attack the Rebels by herself” I ordered. “Inionri, Echrad, go and summon the best doctors, healers and biokinetics available. The rest of you” I told my unit, “go and search for the rest of the generals, tell them to come as fast as they can. Jomei and Kamose may be helpful in convincing her to come back” I didn’t know how to stop her, but I knew if I didn’t she was going to die.
The tornado kept growing, getting away from our camp, preparing to touch ground in enemy territory. The tornado was a thing out of nightmares, we could barely see it in the twilight. I started to run after the tornado, but it was too far away from me. I watched as it devoured everything in its trail, trees, rocks, vehicles, people… nothing could resist its pull, the tornado absorbed them and then tossed them in its destruction trail, a broken shadow of what they once were. I tried to get closer, but the rubbish made my advance difficult and the projectiles thrown by the powerful currents kept me on edge, defending myself. I moved as fast as I could, but it wasn’t enough.
The chaos in the enemy camp didn’t take long to appear. I saw how they tried to blast the tornado away, but there was nothing that could stop it. There was nothing that I, or anyone could do to stop it, there was no way of saving my mother. If I had only understood Cerridwen’s words or the real meaning behind my mother speech, but I didn’t, I failed.
As the remaining light died on the horizon the intensity of the winds started to diminish as well. I ran between the rubble, over the dead bodies of the enemies, I ran towards the falling body of my mother as she plummeted to the ground. I did my best to stop her fall, but I already knew it was too late. I finally arrived to where my mother’s broken body had fell. A trickle of blood ran from her ears and nose. I tried to wipe the blood away and hold my mother in my arms. I asked her to open her eyes, to come back to me. I heard noises around me, but it didn’t matter, the only thing on my mind was my mother, she was the only thought in my mind. Someone grabbed me and pulled me apart from my mother, I yelled, kicked, thrashed, I did everything I could think of to go back to her, but it wasn’t enough. A growing crowd gathered around my mother. I saw familiar faces and some unknown to me. Tepes gently lifted my mother’s body and wrapped her in his arms, then walked away, taking her back to the camp, followed by my mother’s siblings. It wasn’t fair that he could hug her, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t fair that they were with her and I couldn’t be. I should be the one by her side. She was my mother. Mine.
I felt lost, my world was crumbling down around me, I wanted to be alone, I needed to be alone, I wanted to scream, to cry, to hit something, and I couldn’t do it there. So I ran again, I ran as if I could outrun the pain. But I couldn’t, the pain was inside me, choking, suffocating me. I kept running until my legs couldn’t hold me anymore and I tumble down next to a big rock.
I felt sick; I throw up until my stomach was empty. I crawled to the rock and sat with my back to it. I hid my face between my knees and cried my eyes out.
An eternity later someone approached me, but I was too tired to worry about my visitor.
“You are pathetic” finally said Caracalla. “I hope that after this you realize just how insignificant you are.”
“Leave me alone Caracalla, I want to be alone” I wiped my tears and stood up. “Go away!” I tried to push him with my mind, but he moved before I could and pushed me against the rock, his arm pushed on my windpipe and I couldn’t breathe.
“How does it feel to fail so miserably? How does it feel to know that you failed your own mother?” His face was just a couple inches from mine, the darkness made it difficult to see, but I could see his eyes, as our eyes locked light erupted around me and I discovered that we were inside my mind.
I was in two places at the same time, in one I was struggling to get air into my lungs, I was at Caracalla’s mercy. On the other we were standing in the middle of a field full of crystals.
“I promised you that I would make you pay for humiliating me,” said the Caracalla in my mind, “and I always keep my promises.” Caracalla touched one of the walls in my mind and it fell down, a burst of pain filled my head and both my body and the projection in my mind joined in a cry of pain. My hands grabbed my head, if felt like it was going to explode. Caracalla let me go and I fell on my knees, he grabbed a fist of my hair and turned my face to him. I noticed then that someone was standing behind him.
“Help me.” I pleaded the figure behind Caracalla.
“What are you doing?” asked Kamose.
“Securing my future, our future.” answered Caracalla as his mental counterpart knocked down another of my walls and made me squirm in pain.
“Are you that scared of her?” asked Kamose.
“I am not scared of her, but I prefer not to take unnecessary risks” said Caracalla. “You shouldn’t either. It’s time for a new dynasty to rule over our Clan, a Regal dynasty. With Kaiserin out of the picture there won’t be a Maxima capable of claiming the throne. The witch said so before dying, you will be the next emperor, and if she dies today, I will be your only heir.”
“Cerridwen?” I was confused, but it sounded like Cerridwen was dead.
“That’s right, Cerridwen died the same day we left the Palace to come here. And now that Sultana is also dead, there no one to help you” said viciously Caracalla.
It was then that I remembered Cerridwen last words to me, the promise that she had asked from me. I had failed Cerridwen. I had failed both my mother and Cerridwen. New tears filled my face.
“Caracalla, I think that this has gone too far.”
“Father, we cannot hesitate now. When people see her they don’t think of you, she is a Maxima, she stinks of Maxima” he pulled my hair and turned me to face Kamose. “She is Sultana’s”
“Father?” I pleaded. It was too much, I had just lost my mother and my grandmother, I had never felt so alone my whole life. Kamose was all I had left, the only one I could reach to.
“I’m sorry Kaiserin.” Kamose knelt before me, he put his hand under my chin and lifted my face so we could see each other. “I’m really sorry, but you are not my daughter.”
Kamose’s mind entered my mental landscape and come into view next to Caracalla. The floor on my mental landscape started shaking and then I was trapped, the floor was sucking me in. The last thing I saw before sinking was Kamose ripping out the crystals containing my memories.
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