I didn’t know where I was or what had happened, I just felt pain all over my body. Every time I woke up I felt unbearable pain followed by a shot and unconsciousness. I thought that I have heard voices, but couldn’t decipher the meaning. Déjà vu, it felt so familiar, like I had been through this before, long ago. In between restless dreams I remembered my escape from the Burrow and the magma fire. I also had nightmares with Agmong. Sometimes the memories were as real as the pain I was feeling.
One day I woke up and the pain was tolerable, I waited for the shot but it never came.
“Do you know where you are?” asked someone I didn’t recognize. I shook my head. “You are in the infirmary, do you remember what happened?” Fire, I remembered the fire, I nodded. “You were badly burned, you have third degree burns on 20% of your body,” he said, “we have treated them as best as we could and by now we’ll start to ease a little bit on the painkillers.”
I tried to move but my body felt heavy and it hurt. I saw some bandages covering my right side, the fire had started that side. 20% of my body was badly burned, I wondered how the new scars would look next to the old ones. Would the new one replace the old ones? Or were they going to combine? I wondered about my future, the general had been really angry and he was the most important man on the sector, he could do whatever he wanted, he could strip me of my rank. I didn’t want to go back to Joshes, at least I hoped that with my new scars I wouldn’t appeal to her anymore.
The doctors and healers paraded in front of me, most of them didn’t pay any attention to me, it was hours before someone came to treat my wounds. I wasn’t prepared for the sight. The damage was extensive, I almost didn’t recognize my arm, I didn’t want to even imagine how my face would look like. I started to cry and the tears running on my face felt like acid on my wounds. They used a net to cover my wounds, something to protect my skin, but also to let it breath.
The next day the doctor came to see me.
“We are going to release you today,” he said, “but you are not fully recovered yet, the scarring is going well, but there’s still a risk of infection, you will need to keep the wound dressed and away from contamination. You will need to come daily for a checkup, we will give you the medicine you need each day.”
“How long have I been here?”
“10 days today since you came,” he glanced at the file in his hands, “at least because of the burns, I’m not counting the time you spent here before, because of your broken bones,” it sounded like he was scolding me. “Well, anyway, today you will sleep on your own bed.”
I waited all day for someone to take off the IV, but it wasn’t until nightfall that a nurse escorted by a soldier came to take care of it.
“I was asked to come pick you up,” said the soldier, “follow me.”
“Wait.” I turned to the nurse. “I need a uniform.” I was clothed only in a thin scrub.
“You cannot wear anything constrictive over your wounds, your skin need to breath, so for the moment you will need to wear that.” She explained to me.
When we exited the infirmary, I felt everyone staring at me. I thought that my flimsy dress was attracting their attention and that made me feel extremely vulnerable. I didn’t know where we were going, but at least we were on route to the building where the high command had their rooms, so maybe I still had my rank. I saw a door watched by two soldiers, one of them knocked the door and disappeared inside the room when he saw us. We were heading in that direction. By the time we reached the door the soldier was already back, holding the door open for me. I had a bad feeling about it, but I had no options, I walked in. My guide and the soldier remained outside, so I was alone.
The room was huge, to my left I saw a chimney on, despite the fact that it wasn’t cold outside. To my left I saw a sofa and a big bed, not Joshes’ bed big, but bigger than the usual bed. On the other side of the room there was a desk cluttered with papers, but what caught my attention was in the center of the room. Between the fireplace and the bed, a small table was set, Vasuman was seated there, eating. The soft light of the candles on the table illuminated him, he was wearing just his pants, the light shone on his bare chest and arms.
I thought about getting out of there, I didn’t want to be in the same room as Vasuman, but I had no where to run, the whole sector was under his command. He was strong and he was in charge, that much was clear to me.
“Greetings Sklave” he said without looking at me, “I see you survived.”
“My name is Kaiserin.” I tried to summon my earlier confidence, but my voice came off as a whisper. Vasuman heard me and I felt the fire in the chimney and on the candles growing, the room felt warmer.
“Are you sticking to that lie?” His voice was even, but he was mad, his face hard.
“It’s not a lie.” I answered in a voice that wasn’t mine, it was too soft, it sounded like a scared little girl, it sounded like Sklave’s.”
“I see that you haven’t learned your lesson.” Vasuman continued his dinner and for a while he ignored me. “Are you hungry?” he suddenly asked startling me.
“No,” I was too scared, I had lost my appetite.
“It’s a shame, the food is delicious.” He kept eating, pretending I wasn’t even there.
I just stayed there, waiting for him, too afraid to say or do anything. After a while the waiting got on my nerves. I remembered it was a game Agmong liked to play, taking me to his room and making me wait, imagining what he had planned for me, sometimes the ideas being worse than reality. It was a psychological play and I couldn’t stop it, already my mind was filled with horrific prospects. My clothing or lack of made me feel utterly vulnerable. I looked around, trying to find weapons to use, alternatives for attack, I needed to defend myself if any of my thoughts became true. But I couldn’t find anything, I was in his territory, he had all the advantage.
I was still caught up on my thinking when Vasuman stood up. The sudden movement startled me and despite myself I backed a couple of steps. Vasuman looked amused by my reactions.
“Come here,” he ordered and I took a couple of hesitant steps forward. “A little closer Sklave.” But when I heard that name I backed again.
“I am not…” I started to protest, but he interrupted me by slapping me across the face, making me stumble.
“I don’t want to listen to any more silliness from you.” He was standing right in front of me, he had crossed the room too fast for me to see. I felt tears in my eyes and tried to keep them from falling. “You need to know your place, you need to accept your identity, Sklave.”
“I am not Sklave, my name is Kaiserin!” As soon as the words left my mouth the next hit came, it was harder and it was hard for me to stay on my feet.
“Your name is Sklave.” He repeated. “What’s your name?” I knew what he was doing, Agmong had done the same, he had beaten me and tortured me until I had accepted Sklave as my name.
“Kaiserin, my name is Kaiserin,” I repeated stubbornly. I tried to dodge the hit I knew was coming, but he grabbed my wrist, the one that wasn’t yet burned, and twist it painfully.
“What’s your name?” he asked again. I heard the unspoken threat, he would keep hurting me until I renounced to my name, my identity.
“Kaiserin,” I repeated. I watched as Vasuman’s head burst into flames. The heat hit me like a physical blow. I tried to free my arm, but I couldn’t.
“What’s your name?” He could keep asking, I was going to keep answering the same.
“Kaiserin.” I saw the fire on his head travel down his arm, just a few inches from me. My skin was getting red because of the heat and I felt as if my clothes were going to burst into flames any moment. I tried to push him away using my mind, tried to free my hand, but it didn’t work, he just took my other wrist and pulled me closer to him and his fire.
“Who are you?” he asked and the fire kept advancing. I heard the hidden threat again, say you are Sklave or I will finish what I started and burn you alive.
I didn’t answer immediately like the other times. I was too terrified watching the fire crawling closer to me, just the heat was already making blisters on my skin, if the fire reached me then it would be worse. And there was nothing I could do. My mother once told me that no matter how strong you are, there’s always going to be someone stronger than you or someone with a power set capable of overcoming yours. No one was really invincible. I had forgotten that rule, Vasuman was reminding me of that fact. There was nothing I could do, not at the moment at least. So I stopped struggling.
“Do it,” I said when I found my voice, “lit me on fire, beat me, kill me if that is what you want, but nothing will change the fact that I’m Kaiserin.” The fire grew in intensity but it didn’t advance. “I once lost myself, I let Agmong to strip me of everything I was, he made me into a different person. I won’t let that happen again, you can take everything you want from me, but not my identity.”
I was afraid of him and what he could do, but I was even more afraid of losing myself. My eyes filled with tears, blurring my sight. I closed them and felt the tears running on my face, but the heat quickly dried them on their way down. He released my arms, but grabbed me by the neck with a hand that almost closed around it. I felt my feet rose from the floor as he squeezed my neck. I opened my eyes and tried to look at Vasuman, the fire was gone, but his eyes were still burning with rage. I put my arms in his, trying to support my weight someone so he wouldn’t be able to choke me. He moved, carrying me across the room and letting me fall on his bed.
Vasuman moved to his desk and I took the opportunity to try to escape.
“Don’t move,” he ordered, at the same time fire erupted around the bed.
I backed till my back was to the headboard, I took one of the pillows and put it in front of me like a shield despite knowing how useless it was. He wrote something on a paper and then went to the door. I remembered the people standing outside and again, my imagination filled me with terrible scenarios. But Vasuman returned to his desk and resumed working while I waited on the bed. Not knowing what was happening was driving me crazy.
I heard knocking on the door and a moment later a woman that I recognized as one of the nurses came in. When she stepped inside the fire around the bed died.
“I think she needs clean bandages” said Vasuman from his desk, “and she has some new burns that need to be treated.”
Of everything I could imagine the note was about I never thought Vasuman sending for help as an option. But when the nurse came to me and applied a cold gel on my wounds I felt relief and could relax a little bit. Vasuman watched from his desk.
“Careful,” he warned when the nurse started to remove the bandages now covered in blood, “I don’t want blood on my bed.” The nurse was very careful, keeping the bandages from touching the bed and putting my arm over a clean cloth.
When Vasuman grabbed my burned arm, he tore off the blisters. The nurse cleaned and covered them. All without eye contact. Once she finished, she gave me a shot and then left the room.
As soon as the nurse left the room the fire around the bed resumed. I was feeling sleepy and realized that the shot was a sedative. I fought the sleep, but my eyes closed against my will. The last thing I see before falling was Vasuman standing next to me, but I was too drowsy to care.
I woke up when someone knocked on the door. I opened my eyes and saw Vasuman getting out of the bed and dressing… he had spent the night sleeping with me. I wondered what had he done, the last thing I remembered was falling asleep after they treated my burns.
He stood up as slaves started carrying breakfast inside. They put plates with food on the table at the center of the room. The slaves were just leaving when someone else walked in.
“Good morning Vasuman,” greeted the newcomer. “I see that you had a pleasant night.” He said, glancing in my direction, but not paying me much attention.
“It’s not what you think, I only kept her here because I didn’t want her out of my sight.” Did that mean that nothing had happened during the night? “In fact, she is the reason I asked you to come here.” He sat down and with a gesture asked the other man to do the same.
“Is she a gift for me?” The man seemed amused by the thought.
I backed as much as I could, to put as much distance as possible. My head was hurting, I was sure it was a memory trying to get out, I knew that person.
“When I returned from the Palace I found out that she had killed one of my lieutenant colonels and took his insignia. Her name is Sklave, but she insists her name is Kaiserin.”
“Kaiserin?” The name had some meaning to the man. “So we have an impostor? The true Kaiserin, Sultana’s daughter died the same day as her.”
“I know that,” said Vasuman, “but there is something about the way she insists on being her that made me doubt.” I wondered if that was the reason he had stopped his attack the previous night. “You knew her better, I though you may be able to clarify things for me.”
The man immediately stood up and walked to the bed, our eyes met and I felt both the pain of a mind invasion and a memory trying to escape. I started the painful process of recovering the memory, it was going to be easy, it was a memory of a person, I was going to find out who the man was. The pain of opening the door was the same as always, and as always it faded as soon as the door was opened. I twisted in pain as the man stood still in front of me. Vasuman walked to the man, he was surprised that he was in a trance and I was still moving.
“He should already be inside your mind,” said Vasuman.
“He is with me,” I said as I prepared for the next phase, I knew that it was going to be harder and the pain wouldn’t fade as fast. “He is spying on my memories, but he doesn’t know what is going to cost him.” I laugh, because I knew what it was going to happen, I knew the pain it was going to cause him to stand so close to me when my mental image opened the chest with my memories.
I laugh until the pain turned laughter into scream, I pressed my hands on my head and endured long enough to recover my hidden memories of Boyar and all the times I had seen him in the Palace. I remembered then that when my mother had appointed Vasuman as general of sector 32 not everyone agreed with her because he was not from a Royal Family, still my mother never changed her decision. What she did was appoint Boyar as general too, as a guide and support for Vasuman.
Boyar had endured the explosion in my mind, long enough to see my memories, but when we got outside my mind, weakened by the attack, he stumbled and Vasuman had to hold him to stop him from falling. I knew his head hurt almost as much as mine.
“Don’t worry uncle, the pain is going to fade away eventually.” Boyar looked at me, this time he paid attention to me. “If you feel up to it, we can make another trip around my mind, there are a lot of interesting memories waiting to get out.” It was a veiled threat and he knew, because even if the memories were painful for me to recover they would be just as painful for him. I wouldn’t let him inside my mind without paying for it, I didn’t trust him. I wasn’t expecting his help, I knew that no one was going to help me, not after all this time.”
“What happened?” asked Vasuman. “You were gone, but she was still here, like a Regal would.”
“How did you found her?” was Boyar’s answer. “I thought she was dead.” Boyar was looking at me, but he wasn’t addressing me. “What did you do to her?”
“So it really is her?” Vasuman was surprised, this was not what he was expecting. “Her file said she was Sklave, there’s no record of any Kaiserin until a few months ago.”
“She doesn’t look like Kaiserin, your fault I guess,” I suspected he was referring to my burns, “but how many Maximas with a double mind do you know?”
“Double mind? Is that what just happened?”
“Someone altered her memories, they’re still there, but locked down, hidden. Each memory is painful to her.”
“Why?” Vasuman was having trouble understanding.
“To make me forget who I am,” I answered, “to make me forget what I’m capable of. To steal my powers and my identity.”
“Kamose” said Boyar. “It had to be him, there’s not many people capable of doing something this complicated. Also, he is the one who announced Kaiserin’s death.”
“But he presented a body, he said it was Kaiserin’s. Why would he lie?” Asked Vasuman as he studied me.
“That’s the right question, why take so many troubles to get rid of her, to keep her out of the way? Killing her would have been far easier.” Boyar looked confused, I guessed he was silently analyzing the possible reasons for Kamose to do what he did.
“Take her out of his way?”
“She was too young to be a risk for his ruling, but she was a big obstacle for her sons to get the throne after him. If I didn’t know that Caracalla didn’t have the capacity I would think it was his doing.” Boyar wasn’t that off mark.
“Caracalla was there, with Kamose, they both did this.” I didn’t know why I was telling them this, but I tried to collaborate with them, to explain things, but I felt they were ignoring me, they listened to my words but they talked as if I wasn’t even there.
“Caracalla is an ambitious young man, he had everything he needs to be successful, not that he is one of my favorite persons. But is surprises me that Kaiserin ended up here, if it was Caracalla’s doing I would understand. This place has an awful reputation and is the perfect place to send an enemy you want to punish, and I see that it worked,” he looked at me as if I was an exhibition or an animal, “but from Kamose I would have expected something different, maybe sectors 5, 14 or even 23.”
“Lobishomen’s sector?” I asked, but I knew that I had really no hope of obtaining an answer. Sector 23, that was Kozlak’s sector.
“Maybe he thought that it would be harder for someone to recognize her here, we have not much communication with the Palace.”
“Those sectors are also isolated from Palace life and even if Lobishomen’s interests kept him traveling there you know that after Shahzadi’s death, there was not many things capable of keeping his attention, I doubt he would have paid Kaiserin’s enough attention to recognize her.
“Of course, some men are just that pathetic, losing his head over a simple woman?” I resented the way Vasuman spoke of Lobishomen, he was a great man and a great general.
“Don’t be so hard on him, remember how you felt when the woman you liked died,” said Boyar. “And she never even acknowledged you, she was too caught up with another man. Now imagine Lobishome and Shahzadi, who shared a great passion and also a child, they belonged to each other.”
“That’s something I rather not think about.” I was wondering what they were talking about.
“Lighten up and see the bright side,” Boyar patted Vasuman’s shoulder. “You never had Sultana, but life has given you the best next thing, you now have her daughter.”
For a moment I couldn’t breath, my heart stopped. If I understood correctly Vasuman desired my mother and Boyar was offering me as a substitute. I stared at Vasuman and I saw how he was taking in Boyar’s words. I could imagine what was going through his mind; I didn’t even exist to the rest of the world, Vasuman could do whatever he wanted with me and there would be no one to stop him.
Copyright © 2014 | Kaiserin Novel