I was thirsty, really thirsty. My throat was dry and even breathing was painful. I tried to open my eyes, but the light stabbed them and I had to close them again. I tried to move, but the pain in my shoulder stopped me. I was surprised to notice that I was resting on something soft and comfortable, also I noticed something connected to my arm. I took a moment to piece together what had happened, how I had ended up there.
“Take this,” said a woman next to me. I opened my eyes again and this time I could see a glass of water in front of me. The woman helped me while I drank. The water was fresh and tasty and it put the fire in my throat to rest. Once I got that under control I shifted my attention to the woman and found that she was Curare. “I’m happy to see you are already reacting” she put her hand on my forehead and then checked the IV in my arm. “Your friends were looking for you, like madmen, once the battle was over. It was lucky for me, because when they finally found you they also found my people.” She took my hand in hers and stared at me. “Your mother was so proud of you, she always took any opportunity she had to speak about your strength and abilities. When she died and they told me that you were dead as well, I was sad, I was sad because I thought that there was nothing left of her in this world.” She was silent for a while and I was trying to process her words. “Your friends told me about what had happened, or at least what they think happened and I have to confess that is hard to believe. But you are here, in the flesh, appearing out of thin air to rescue my son and destroy the enemy camp.
“I’m sorry about Sarin, I couldn’t help her” I told her and I noticed a shadow of sorrow cross her face, but she quickly recovered and it was as if it never happened.
“It is sad that she is no longer with us, but I take comfort in the fact that at least I could avenge her death. The New World Clan is no more, we destroyed them and there are no even ashes left for them to rise off again.” She sounded confident, but I could tell that the destruction of the Clan wasn’t enough for her, she loved her daughter. “I will tell your friends that you are awake, they have been dying to see you.” With those words she left.
It wasn’t long before Agis, Geb, Lamia, Inionri and Vikomt arrived. Lamia and Inionri ran to hug me, standing at opposite sides of my bed.
“You are a stupid, dumb, irresponsible girl” Inionri said as soon as she let me go. “Do you have any idea how worried we were? When we saw the building collapsing, again, I thought that we had lost you again, and this time for real.”
“I told Echrad that I was ok” as I said her name I noticed she wasn’t there. “Where is she?”
“She’s resting” said Vikomt. “She suffered a few injuries, nothing bad,” he added, “but she is under observation and could be here.”
“How did you end up in the New World Camp?” asked Agis from across the room. She looked serious and gloomy.
“After I fell into the tunnel I started to search for an exit, after a while I stumbled across a young assassin that got injured trying to escape, she asked me to help Dendro and Sarin” Agis attitude was worrying me, I couldn’t guess what he was thinking, “I didn’t find them in time to save Sarin, but I could help Dendro.”
“You should have stayed safe and waited for me,” said Geb, he didn’t sound impressed or happy with my actions.
“I spent too much time hiding, waiting for someone to rescue me,” I said, “for a few hours I had a purpose again, for a few hours I felt like myself again.”
“It doesn’t change the fact that you were highly irresponsible” Geb scolded me and I felt small.
“My mother always said that no life was more important than others, I risked my life in exchange of the lives of 28” 28 assassins that had survived because of my help, “I think it was a fair exchange.”
“Fair for whom?” said Agis with, the same calmness, I didn’t like him like that, I would have preferred fury to his indifference. “It wouldn’t have been fair to us that have risked so much to help you.”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I stayed silent.
“Agis, is you are going to be like that it would be better for you to leave” Lamia told him after an uncomfortable silence, “you too Geb, the last thing we need right now is your bad energy polluting the room.” Lamia hugged me again and wiped the tears that I hadn’t noticed running in my face. “Don’t worry cousin, it will be alright” she said as she tightened the hug.
After Agis and Geb reluctantly left Inionri and Lamia stayed there with me without saying anything. Vikomt didn’t say anything either, he just stood by the door, like he was guarding it. After a while I fell asleep.
When I woke up again, I was alone, the thirst had returned along with hunger. I looked around the room trying to see my options. I was thinking about getting out of bed when someone entered the tent and held the door open for a slave that entered with a food tray in his hands, after him, another two slaves carried a table and a couple of chairs. Dendro was the last to enter.
“Hello Kaiserin” he greeted me. “I thought it would be appropriate to come here and thank you in person.” As the slaves were preparing the table Dendro walked to the bed and helped me get out of it.
“You have nothing to thank me for” I said as I tried not to fall. Dendro took the IV with one hand and put his arm around my waist to help me walk to the table. When we arrived there he put the IV solution on a hook in the chair’s back and then helped me sit down. “Are you comfortable?”
“Yes, I’m fine, thank you” I was happy to be out of the bed. I took the glass that one of the slaves offered me and was disappointed to see it was just juice and not wine. “You didn’t have to do this, is too much.”
“It’s nothing, I wanted to see you and sharing a meal seemed like a good idea” they put a bowl in front of me and I felt my mouth watering at the smell, it was a simple broth, but it looked delicious. “My mother said that we couldn’t eat anything heavy yet, I hope this is satisfactory to you.”
“It’s perfect,” it was, compared to the things that I usually had to eat, I couldn’t remember the last time I had something so good… the pain hit me and I pushed the thought to the back of my mind, I didn’t need my memories causing me an attack in front of Dendro. “How did we end up here after escaping to the tunnel?” I asked, trying to distract him, I knew Dendro had noticed something and I didn’t want to discuss my problems with him.
“When we heard, and felt the explosion, I sent someone to look for you. You had hit your head, you were unconscious and bleeding so he carried you back to us. We walked as far as we could until we found the tunnel blocked. We had been there for just an hour when a crazy terrakinetic arrived looking for you” I was sure that was Geb he was talking about. “After he found us he informed my mother and they sent a rescue team for us. More of your friends arrived, and despite being really against the idea of letting you go, they agreed with my mother that you would receive a better care with us, helping you regain your health was the least we could do for you.” We ate in silence, I wasn’t sure how much he knew about me and I was afraid to ask and find he knew the whole story. “They told my mother and me what happened, or at least part of it,” he said as if he could read my mind, I didn’t react, I kept eating and avoided his eyes, afraid of what I would see there. “Why did you help me?” he finally broke the silence. “There was no reason for you to risk yourself for me, you could have waited for help in the tunnel, out of harm’s way.”
“I was tired of being the victim, the defenseless girl that can’t fight for herself, I wanted to do this for me,” I answered, “when I found the young woman that had tried to escape and she asked me for my help I thought it was the best chance I had to prove to myself that I could stop being the victim, I wanted to see if I could go back to being the person others trusted and wanted help from.”
“You could have died,” he said and I felt a sad smile growing on my face.
“I know that.” I answered.
“And you did it anyway?” he asked.
“I’m not afraid of dying, in fact, I would welcome death.” I said, I didn’t know why I was confiding in him, why I was telling him thing that I hadn’t told the others. “As I saw it, I was either going to accomplish my goal and rescue you or I was going to die trying. Either option was fine by me, both were better than not doing anything, at least that way I would have some control about what was happening. I have lived too long being afraid, feeling defenseless and in pain, being constantly humiliated. I have wished I could escape more than once, and death is the ultimate escape.” Dendro didn’t say anything so I kept going. “Until a few days ago I believed that I was nothing, that I was alone in the world, but now I remember, now I know that it wasn’t always like this, there were people who cared for me, but most of them are dead now: my mother, my grandmother, my brother, some of my aunts and uncles and former partners. As I see it, I don’t have many reasons to live.”
“Those scars that you have, were they done by people from your Clan?”
“By my superiors, it was punishment for my disobedience” I answered without thinking.
We finished our meal and the slaves started to clean the dishes and refilled our glasses.
“It was my fault” Dendro suddenly said, “they captured us because of me” he elaborated. “I was being arrogant, I thought that they wouldn’t be able to harm me. I carelessly exposed my people and my own sister and because of that she is dead. The pain they inflicted on me was nothing compared to the pain I felt seeing how they abused and killed my sister while I watched powerless to help her. I wanted to die because of that, I felt so useless. It took them a few days to break me. Thinking of this I can’t help but admire you” for a moment I thought that I had misheard him. “You are still here, you’re still fighting despite your words. You could have given up when you were trapped under that building or let the tunnel crush you, you could have let them kill you or stayed in the warehouse and let the explosion kill you, but you didn’t, you kept going, you kept fighting. I can imagine and I won’t pretend I understand what you have been through, this couple of years, but I know that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I learn my lesson; I won’t let my pride harm those under my protection again. What lesson are you taking out of this heiress?”
“There is no lesson for me to learn,” I said, “this experience has only shown me how vulnerable and insignificant I am.”
“You can pretend that you have given up, but you haven’t, not yet, and soon you will realize it and will stop your self-pity trip and will take once again your rightful place. You are strong, stronger than you recognize, you did what I couldn’t do, you conquered your fears and pain so you could succeed. You were intelligent and resourceful. Dux used to say that you would become a great warrior, that you were intelligent and capable. Mother says that there are two kinds of people, those who are born to rule and those who are born to be ruled. You have a presence and an unconquerable spirit that tells me that you were born to rule. I used to think that Dux and I would one day stand as the leaders of our clans, but he’s no longer here and I don’t doubt that you have a good chance to be the one to take the throne of your Clan.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about Dendro” it was an impossible dream.
“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t, like I say I do make mistakes” Dendro stood up and walked to my side of the table to help me back to the bed. “I still believe in everything I said.” He took me back to the bed and helped me settle down. “No matter what happens Kaiserin I want you to know how grateful I am for your help in saving not only my life, but the lives of those who were under my protection. I promise you that I will do everything in my power to ensure your safety and the safety of those you care about.” After that speech he bowed to me and left the tent followed by the slaves.
I stayed awake a long time just thinking about Dendro’s words. I still thought that most of them were nonsense, what could he know? He didn’t know what it felt like to have the memories of two different persons inside. I wasn’t Kaiserin, Sultana’s heiress anymore, but I wasn’t and couldn’t be Sklave anymore. I was someone else, someone new, and I didn’t know who.
There were a lot of secrets in my mind that I couldn’t recover. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life being afraid of my own mind, not knowing when the pain was going to come or when it was going to end, because no matter how hard those trying to help me worked, there were hundreds if not thousands of memories trapped. Memories that could render me useless in a moment, cause me pain so incapacitating that I would become vulnerable.
I thought of my friends and Pacorus’ words. I thought about Caracalla and the emperor Kamose. I thought about a thousand things and many alternatives that I could take. I tried to decide what I would do once we had to return back to the Empire.
I didn’t receive any more visitors for the rest of the day, but I was still awake at midnight, so I removed the IV from my arm and got out of bed. My body was sore and most of my wounds weren’t completely healed, but as I moved I realized that it was nothing compared to the pain that I had to endure under Agmong’s care who enjoyed to beat me up but didn’t let me miss any of my obligations and had me patrolling even with open wounds. I let the pain wash over me until I was confident that I could move without trouble. Then I took a cloak that was folded near my bed and wrapped it around me.
I stepped out of the tent and found a surprised soldier next to it, guarding my door and looking at me. I told him who I was looking for and after thinking about it for a moment he agreed to take me to him. I realized that I was at the heart of the Assassin’s camp and it took us a while to cross over to my own camp. The soldier seemed to know exactly where we were going and we reached our destination in a short time. Despite the time we saw lights coming from his tent and I felt better knowing I wouldn’t be disturbing his sleep. I left my guide outside while I went inside the colonel’s tent to talk to him.
“I wasn’t expecting your visit,” he said without taking his eyes out the documents in front of him. “To what do I owe the honor of your presence?”
“I know that you said that you owed me nothing and that you wouldn’t help me anymore” I said to make things clear, “but I was wondering if you would do something for me, for my friends to be exact.”
“What do you want?” he asked, taking a quick look at me.
“I’ve been thinking a lot and I realized that it won’t be a good an idea to go back to the heart of the Empire” Pacorus looked at me and I noticed something different about the way he was looking at me. “I’m not sure what path I should take right now, but I know that I can’t expose myself and the little progress I have accomplished by now by getting closer to the Emperor. If he finds out that I recovered my memory and that I want my old life back it could be the end of me.”
“I won’t deny that you’re probably right about it and I’m glad that you reached that conclusion by yourself,” he let his documents alone and focused on me, “but for what do you need my help exactly?”
“None of my friends are going to agree with me, they won’t listen to me” I explained, “I need someone that they could recognize as an authority to force them to leave me behind when they go back to their sectors.”
“You’re right about that too,” he went silent for a moment and I could feel his mind brushing mine, but without entering it. “Are you sure about this?” I nodded in confirmation. “Alright, once the time comes I will make sure that they leave you behind. I know they will be hard to convince, my nephew Agis specially.”
“Thanks,” I bowed to him and turned around to leave.
“You know what?” I stopped to listen to him. “I wasn’t expecting for you to grow so much in this little time,” he moved some papers and produced a folder. “Curare and her son informed me of your activities, for security the report I drafted doesn’t include the name of the soldier that accomplished the miraculous rescue and destroyed the enemy’s weapons, but I know who did it and I’m sure that Curare won’t forget the truth” he put the folder down and focused on me once again. “I wasn’t expecting you to overcome what Kamose did to you, but I forgot that is not the first time that you piss off an emperor and survive” I knew that he was referring to the incident in which I had confronted my mother, it was one of the memories I had recovered from my time with her, I knew what he was talking about, but I wouldn’t put the two situations on the same level, what Sultana had done and what Kamose did were very different things. “I’m starting to think that maybe there’s still hope for you after all.”
Pacorus returned his attention to the papers on his desk and ignored me. I took that as my dismissal and left the place. As I went back to my tent, I reflected about my meeting with him, it had been easier than what I had expected. Talking to my friend would be harder than this. At least I had a few hours to think about it before confronting them.
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