I observed the changing landscape through the window of the vehicle, we reached a point where in another time I would have seen Dux’s bird watching over me. But there was no bird, because despite the familiar landscape around me it wasn’t the same, the Palace had changed a lot in the years I had been away. Dux wouldn’t be waiting for me and my mother wasn’t in her throne. I wasn’t the same anymore. In the year since Vasuman and Boyar had known about me I had changed yet again. It had been very difficult to convince them to let me come with them to the annual gathering in the Palace, but I was there, back in the place that had once been my home.
As we approached the Palace our convoy took a different route that the one I knew, we went through one of the secondary entrances, not by the main one, the one that I had worked at once.
“We’re almost there,” said Vasuman, “cover yourself.” He handled me my travel cloak. “Remember, no one must see you.”
I obeyed immediately. That was the deal, no one could see me, no one could know that I was alive and in the Palace. I was there only to keep Vasuman’s bed warm. I put the cloak around my shoulders and fastened it with my insignia. I put the hood over my face to cover it.
We got out of the vehicle in the space between the first and second wall. Once we crossed the second wall a captain from Palace approached us.
“Greetings general, colonel,” he said, bowing to each of us in turn. “We have accommodations for your men in the barracks, a soldier will take them there. For you we have accommodations in the Palace, a room for you and another for colonel Skl…”
“She will stay with me,” Vasuman cut the captain’s speech, “she doesn’t need her own room.”
“As you wish general, if that’s what you want follow me and I will show you your room.” The young captain started to walk and we followed him.
I kept my face covered as we walked through the different sections of the Palace. I felt at home, this was my territory, it was where I belonged. But Vasuman’s hand on my back was a constant reminder that it was just a visit, I couldn’t stay. We walked past the hallway that would take me to the room that was assigned to me when I visited my mother. Was Caracalla there now that I was out of the picture? We turned left, I knew that to the right was the emperor’s room. My mother’s old room.
I heard a familiar voice coming at us and I lifted my eyes just long enough to confirm what my ears were telling me.
“You can’t just run to your friend the moment we arrive to the Palace,” said Lobishomen.
“Why not?” asked Kozlak. “You ran to my mother as soon as you arrived.”
“It’s not the same,” said Lobishomen angry. “I don’t like the ideas that girl is giving you.”
By then they were walking past us in the hallway. Kozlak didn’t see me, but I watched his face change as he recognized Vasuman, I heard him stop behind us.
“Isn’t he the general of sector 32?” Kozlak asked his father. “Shouldn’t we at least ask him?”
“This is exactly why I don’t want you talking to Lamia,” said Lobishomen, “you need to stop believing everything she tells you. Your cousin is dead, as dead as your mother or the empress.”
I knew they were talking about me, for a moment I wanted to stop and turn to them, to tell them it was me, I was there! But Vasuman’s hand kept pushing me away from them.
“This is your room,” said the captain stopping in front of a door. “A slave is being assigned to you, he will be here shortly and will help you with everything you need.”
“Thanks captain.” Vasuman dismissed the man as we walked into the room. He closed the door behind us.
As soon as Vasuman took his hand off of me, I turned around and went back to the door, I put my hand and forehead against the door, as if I could go through it, back to Kozlak.
“You can’t leave the room,” Vasuman reminded me.
“I know.” I felt tears running down my face. I was so close and yet so far. “Kozlak wanted to ask you about me.”
“Don’t think about it,” he said. He grabbed me by the waist and pulled me to him. “You don’t know who else is involved in this, maybe Lobishomen doesn’t want his son asking about you because he already knows where you are.”
“No, Lobishomen could never be part of this” I was sure of it. “He is not involved.”
“Still is better if you don’t try to contact anyone, you can’t leave this room,” he warned me again. “You are not here to visit.”
“I know, I’m here to keep you company.”
“That’s right,” he turned me around so we were facing each other, “you are here for me, not for your past.”
“I’m tired,” I tried to push him away, “can I rest a little bit?”
“Ok, I will go search for Boyar, he should have arrived two days ago and I need to talk with him.”
When Vasuman left I went into bed without bothering to take my clothes off and cried myself to sleep.
Vasuman was back before dinner. He woke me up so we could eat dinner and then he took me to bed. In the morning we had breakfast in bed. Vasuman was getting ready to go, he had a lot of reunions with the other generals and was going to be busy most of the day.
“I will eat with the other generals,” he reminded me, “but I will make sure someone brings you food. After lunch we have more reunions, but I will be back in time for dinner. Just remember not to let anyone see you.”
I stayed in bed for a while, I had a lot to think about. I spent most of the morning resting, planning, plotting. I took a bath, taking advantage of the private bathroom the room had. After my bath I stood in front of the mirror in the room. I wondered if my friends and former subordinates would be able to recognize me if they see me, I looked so different to the captain of the Palace I used to be.
The worst change was the nasty burn scar that ran from my right cheek down my neck, shoulder and right arm. It was an awful sight, the skin was wrinkled and stretched, with a reddish sick color. The rest of my body was also covered in marks. Scars left from Agmong’s whippings covered arms, legs, back and chest forming a crisscrossed pattern all over my skin.
I went through my clothes until I found a sleeveless shirt and short pants that left my arms and most of my legs uncovered. I combed my hair and let it fall on my right side so it covered most of the scars on my face. I wanted my face to show just the part that still looked like me. The slave that brought me my food was speechless when he saw me. A scarred warrior wasn’t that uncommon in the empire, but my scars weren’t the result of a battle, my scars were caused by torture and it showed. I barely ate, I was restless and wasn’t hungry. I took my travel cloak and fastened it with my insignia. I pulled the hood over my face and walked out of Vasuman’s room.
I knew the hallways by heart, I knew exactly where I was and where to go. I walked by many crossings guarded by the Palace’s guards, but the colonel’s insignia granted me passage, at least in the quarters area.
“I’m sorry Colonel, but this is a restricted area.” A young lieutenant stood in my way.
“I need to go to the throne room,” I said.
“At this moment the Heirs reunion is taking place there.” Informed one of the guards.
“I know,” I said, “that’s where I’m going.” They looked at each other, they weren’t going to let me pass, so I pushed them out of my way using my mind.
Not far from there I found another group of guards blocking my way and I used the same trick to get rid of them, until I got to the throne room’s door. Two captains were guarding the door.
“I came to the heirs’ reunion.”
“All of the heirs are already in.” One of them said.
“Get out of my way,” I said, “I had some business to attend with one of them.”
“Only authorized heirs can get inside,” said captain Maddan from the Regal family. One of my former friends, an ex-lover.
I heard footsteps behind me, the guards I had already passed were coming after me.
“I’m sorry captain, we tried to stop her.” One of them said.
A guard tried to grab me by my shoulder, but he only managed to take my cloak off me. My exposed body surprised a few of them, but for different reasons. Maddan went pallid, he stared at me with incredulity. He had recognized me.
“Kaiserin?” his voice was shaking, he was stunned. “I thought you were dead.”
“I was,” I told him, “but I’m back.” I took a few steps closer to Maddan. “It just took me a while to crawl out of hell.” I extended my hand as if I was going to touch Maddan, to prove him I was made of flesh, I wasn’t a ghost, but instead I used my mind to throw him against the other captain. “I have to leave you Maddan, I have to go thank the one responsible for my journey to hell.” Before any of them could stop me I went into the room.
The first thing I saw was Caracalla sitting on my mother’s throne. It only increased my hate for him. To his right was Trajan and to his left Rimsin. In front of them was a group of youngsters surrounded by Caracalla’s lackeys. I could see on a small group by the side the heirs from the allied clans and some of the older heirs of the empire. On the other side was an even smaller group with those who refused to follow Caracalla’s orders, Inionri and Kozlak where there.
When the door closed Caracalla turned to see what the noise was about, when he saw me his face lost his composure. For a second I thought I was fear, but it was quickly changed to surprise, incredulity and confusion only to set into a look of utter hate.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him, I couldn’t keep myself from laughing at him. “It looks like you saw a ghost.”
Between Caracalla’s reaction and my voice everyone was looking at me trying to see what had caused such reaction from their leader. Some of them didn’t know who I was, but most of them knew Kaiserin, Sultana’s heir. Their voices started to grow in volume as more of them recognized me.
“I can take care of this,” offered Rimsin with confidence and I could see a smile on Caracalla’s lips. Rimsin walked to me and from somewhere produced a whip. “Did you miss me Sklave?” he mocked me as he swung the whip, the noise made me shivered before I could control it. “We are going to have so much fun, just like old times.”
“You have no idea how much I wanted to see you Rimsin,” I said. I remembered our last encounter, how he had humiliated me, abused me, beaten me. He had taken advantage of me when I couldn’t defend myself.
Rimsin was walking towards me by the central path, the one made out of metal that divided the room. I stepped into the same path and felt the cold metal through my bare feet, connecting to it. Rimsin raised his arm, preparing to use the whip against me. As I saw him preparing to attack, I raised two metal spears from the floor. Rimsin saw the spear in front of him and stepped back, the spear in his back went through his chest. The spear in front of him melted back into the floor, but the one behind started to grow, dividing and growing like the branches of the tree. In under a minute Rimsin was suspended in the air, held by metal branches that went through his arms, chest and legs. He was screaming, but the sound changed as another branch grew inside him and came out of his mouth, the new eery sound he produced was enough to freeze the blood of those squeamish. His body was thrashing against its bonds, trying to escape.
“What’s the problem Rimsin?” I walked closer to him, so he could see me. “Didn’t you say that screams of pain were a sweet song? Or is just when you are not the one screaming?”
One of the younger heirs was throwing up, the scene was too much for him. Most of the heirs, Caracalla included were frozen in their places, they couldn’t process what had just happened.
“You are next Caracalla,” I warned him, and after that all hell broke loose.
I felt the combined attack of many minds, invading mine and I fell to my knees. Most of Caracalla’s lackeys were coming at me, decided to protect their leader. But I had prepared for just that moment for a long time.
In my mind, I was already waiting for them, the mental images of my enemies were gathering inside my mind, most of them were taken back by the fact that they were inside a telepath’s mind, inside a mental landscape. They saw my mental image and came for me, they were decided to destroy me and I ran until I hit a dead end and my enemies surrounded me. I had a small chest on my hands, when I was surrounded by my enemies I opened it. The darkness in my mind was immediately filled with a blinding light, one that burned everything it touched.
Outside my mind, I saw most of the telepaths collapse. Most of them weren’t strong enough to resist the attacks in my mind, least of all the one from that particular chest. I was prepared for it and still the searing light had affected me. The rest of my enemies, the ones that hadn’t gone into my mind were prepared to attack me, but using my mind I conjured a strong wind and attacked them. Most of them flew away, some just fell backwards, but still a few were strong enough to fight the wind back.
The first enemy reached me and tried to kick me, but I stepped back to dodge his kick and using my mind pushed him against another man that was coming at me. I glanced someone by my side, but I was too slow to dodge the punch. Someone blocked the attack and I turned to find Dendro beside me.
“What are you doing?” I asked him, surprised. “You can’t help me, it will get you in trouble.”
“A promise is a promise heiress,” he said as he got rid of the attacker with a couple of well placed hits. “I won’t stand doing nothing while they attack you, they are too many.”
“That’s right, did you really think you would take them all on your own?” Inionri had also arrived to help me, as surprised as they were by my presence and my actions they were willing to help.
“You can’t do this, you will get into trouble.” They weren’t the only ones, more of my cousins and allies had joined the fight, that was not my plan. “I came for Caracalla, if you help me it will be dangerous for you.”
“Because of Kamose?” said Inionri. “You will be in trouble too.”
“The idea is that I’m the only one to take the fall, I don’t want you to fall with me.”
“So this is a suicide mission?” Inionri glared at me and I couldn’t deny she was right, the only thing I could do was to push them away from me, literally.
Caracalla was watching the battle from the throne. I saw the silent exchange between him and Trajan and knew they were discussing something. I took advantage of the respite in battle and grabbed Caracalla with my mind, throwing him up, as he started falling I raised some rock spears out of the floor, I was hoping to catch him with them, but he turned in the air and using one of the spears to help him he pushed himself out of harm’s way.
I couldn’t give up, I knew that I was running out of time, I had to do it or I would lose my opportunity. I called one of the swords that hung above the throne with my mind and ran to Caracalla. He produced a sword of his own and parried my blow. The clang of metal against metal resonated above the screams of Rimsin and the roar of battle between Caracalla’s followers and my friends. Caracalla wasn’t risking entering my mind, he had seen what had happened to the ones who invaded my mind. I was using my double mind to ensure that he couldn’t read my next move from my mind, but despite being unable to read me he was still far better at fighting that what I could have imagined. I managed to cut him a couple times, superficial cuts on his arm and side that caused him no discomfort. At least he hadn’t managed to injure me either. After a while I started to use my mind to try and find an advantage until I finally could trip him and take his sword from him. I saw him on the floor, unarmed and I thought that it was my opportunity. I lifted my sword and prepared to finish him, but at that moment the doors opened and I felt a powerful mental attack that froze me and gave Caracalla enough time to move out of my reach.
I turned and watch the emperor and some of his generals walk into the room. Someone must have told them about the fight and those with heirs at the reunion wanted to see what was going on.
I knew that I couldn’t face them and survive, I had learned with Vasuman where my limits were. But seeing Kamose, the one responsible for all my pain affected me more that I thought possible. I forgot about Caracalla and instead threw all my power against Kamose. Wind bursts, metal spears, wooden stakes, stone peaks, all I could think of I used against him.
Inside my mind, I Kamose’s mental image was standing in the middle of the labyrinth that was my mental landscape. I concentrated for a moment and crystals erupted around him, growing around him, forming a cell to trap him.
“If you are going to steal my memories again you should start with these” I told him as my mental image walked to his. The crystals around him held the memories of the abuse and torture I had to endure while I had been in sector 32, I wanted him to admire his work.
“What is this?” he asked as he looked around as if searching for something he couldn’t find. He watched the memory of my first day in sector 32 and how Agmong and his men had received me, he saw the torture Agmong forced on me in order to break my spirit, he watched how he had lent me to his friends, he even watched what Rimsin had done to me. He watched me with Joshes and her friends. He watched how Vasuman had attacked me and burned me, marking my skin with his fire.
“You know what it is,” I told him as he watched, “this is the hell you sent me to.” I put my hands around two of the crystals and looked inside the improvised cell. “Why didn’t you kill me instead? Why did I do to deserve such a harsh punishment?” I asked as I forced the crystals to move, making the prison smaller. Kamose tried to push the crystals back, but the memories were impossible to break and when the crystals were about to crush him he left my mind.
Outside my mind the real Kamose was trying to get closer to me as I threw everything I could think of against him using my mind. Once he was outside my mind, I could move again, not having to focus all my attention to my telekinesis. I picked up my word and raised it intending to use it against him. His arrival had stoped all the other fights and the others were watching us in silence, waiting to see what the emperor would do.
“Stop,” he ordered me, but I refused to obey him. “Stop this before is too late.” Kamose dodged all my attacks and was getting closer to me.
“Or what?” I challenged him. “There is nothing you can do to me that is worse that what you already did!” My head was pounding, I had a headache that was not the result of a mental attack or a memory trying to get free, it was psychic headache. I had abused my powers and was reaching my limit.
I remembered my mother’s death, she had been consumed by her own powers. Maybe if I did what she had done and let my powers get loose I would have an opportunity to kill Kamose. I took the sword and prepared to strike Kamose, I used my mind to hold him still so he couldn’t dodge my attack. But before I could do it a wall of fire erupted before me.
“No!” I screamed as I took a step back. Another wall erupted behind me and then the fire extended until I was totally surrounded. “No! It’s not fair!” I yelled in frustration. I had been so close.
“I apologize Emperor,” said Vasuman, “colonel Sklave is under my responsibility and I’m truly sorry for the problems he had caused. She is a little crazy and once she starts fighting, it’s almost impossible to stop her.” He walked until he was almost inside the fire. “I thought I ordered you to stay in my room.” He scolded as the fire started closing in on me.
“I’m sorry, please forgive me.” I begged him as I fell to the floor and tried to protect myself from his fire.
“What are you talking about Vasuman?” General Khreb finally broke the silence. “That’s Kaiserin.”
“But that’s not possible,” said Vasuman. “The emperor himself showed us the real Kaiserin’s dead body, this girl is just delusional. Am I right emperor?”
“Father?” Trajan was by Kamose’s side. “What’s going on? That’s Kaiserin, right? I can feel her.”
“I’m sorry general,” I repeated when the fire was just a few inches from reaching me. “Please forgive me!” I begged with the hope he would put the fire down. Begging was all I could do, I had broken a promise already and disobeyed his orders, I couldn’t do it again, so all I had left was begging.
“That’s enough Vasuman, you are hurting her!” I was surprised to hear Kamose intercede for me.
“This?” Vasuman made the flames grow in size and intensity and I couldn’t help but scream. “This is nothing for her, she will be fine.”
“It wasn’t a suggestion, it’s an order,” said Kamose and I felt how the circle of fire expanded again. “What have you done to her?” He asked, it was a rhetorical question, but Vasuman answered anyway.
“Me? Are you worried about what I have done? She is mine and I can do whatever I want to her.” Vasuman crossed the fire and stood next to me.
“Can someone explain to me what it’s going on?” asked general Isis, one of my mother’s sisters. “You told us that she was dead Kamose, but is obvious to me that the girl is Kaiserin, or at least what is left of her.”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.” Kamose was losing control of the situation, too many people wanted an explanation.
“Is she truly Kaiserin?” asked Lobishomen.
“She is Kaiserin,” Kamose finally accepted, “but I don’t know how she ended up with Vasuman.”
“You are the one who sent her to my territory Kamose,” said Vasuman,” to my sector. Why are you acting mad at me for taking her? You are the one who threw away who could have been the most powerful warrior of her generation and broke her until she was not even a shadow of her former self. You cannot blame me for taking advantage of it. Sklave or Kaiserin, doesn’t matter, she is mine now.”
Through the fire I could see Kamose, Trajan was to his left and Caracalla to his right. Trajan looked mad at Vasuman, Caracalla, on the other hand, looked amused by the situation, now that Kamose was there he was in control again. Caracalla looked at me and started laughing at my humiliation. To everyone’s surprise the one to shut him up, using his fist to his face, was Kamose.
“Father!?” Caracalla was stunned. He fell to the floor and I could see blood running down his face, probably because of a broken nose.
“The show is over” Kamose announced. “We will discuss this later, in another place, return to the war room.” I could see in the general’s faces that none of them was willing to let the subject drop, they wanted to know what had happened, they wanted an explanation, but not hard enough to disobey the emperor, slowly they started to leave the room.
A woman started walking to the center of the room, to where Rimsin was still trying to scream.
“I said, everyone out.” Said Kamose.
“Your Majesty, my son.” She pointed to Rimsin, caught in my tree of pain.
“Your son is getting what he deserves.” The woman didn’t want to leave, but Kamose’s glare, or maybe something else, made her leave.
“Father, you can’t do that to Rimsin, you have to help him.” Caracalla’s face was losing his composure and by the way his eyes were burning I knew they were having a private conversation.
“I can do what I want,” said Kamose out loud so everyone could hear him. “Vasuman, you and I have a lot to talk about, wait for me in my office,” Kamose grabbed Caracalla’s shirt collar and pulled him up. I had never seen Kamose treat Caracalla like that or Caracalla so scared, “as soon as I finish discussing with my son I will go talk to you.” Kamose practically dragged Caracalla out.”
The fire around me died and Vasuman bent over me and grabbing a fist of hair yanked me up.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he was mad at me.
“I wanted revenge.”
“You have caused enough problems today,” he said as he yanked my hair so hard I felt like my neck was going to break, “go back to my room and wait for me, I will deal with you later.” He dropped me and I fell to the floor, too tired to try and stand up.
From the floor I watched Vasuman walk away. The rest of the generals had already left and only the heirs remained. I saw some of Caracalla’s followers walking towards me. I was too tired to do something about it. I had failed, and was surrounded by enemies.
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