It took me a moment to remember what had happened. I opened my eyes and discovered that I was back in Vasuman’s room. We were in bed, my head resting on his chest, he was stroking my hair. I remembered Boyar and the others, but none of them were around, I had no idea how I had ended up back there.
“Are you hungry?” asked Vasuman. “You didn’t eat anything last night and it’s time for breakfast.”
“Is another day?” I sat on the bed and saw the light entering through the windows. “What time is it?”
“A little past eight, breakfast should be here soon.” Vasuman climbed out of the bed and started to pick his clothes. “I decided to skip breakfast with the other generals, I wanted to be here when you woke up, but I have to go soon. I have a meeting with your father.”
“How did I get here?” Last I remembered I was with Boyar, trying to fight back a psychic headache.
“Boyar told me what they were planning and told me to go to the room where they had you,” Vasuman explained. “Your friend’s parents were deciding what to do with you. They were divided between using you as a weapon of mass destruction, using you to kill your father or renting you to your ex-lovers to procreate new heirs.”
“Well, we know that at least one of those options is out of the table.” I wondered what else they had said about me while I couldn’t hear them. I wondered what my friends had thought about their parents’ plans. “But we still have to wait and see what my father is going to do with me.”
“Your father was mad at me for taking advantage of you.” Vasuman said. “It gave the impression that this is more complicated than we originally thought. He asked me what I knew about you, how you got to the sector, what have you done there, as if he hadn’t already read the reports. As you asked me, I tried to keep the names of those who helped you recover your memories a secret.”
“With so many people who knows what happened to me, I’m afraid is going to be very difficult to hide that information. I’m really worried about it, I don’t even want to think of what Kamose will do to them when he find out who helped me.”
“All of this is worse than I imagined. If only you had kept out of the way, if people hadn’t discovered that you are alive, if the emperor hadn’t discovered that you have your memory back, then I wouldn’t be here worried about your life.” Vasuman was getting angry. “Now I have to deal with your father’s decision to see if he lets you live or kills you, and also I have to worry about your so called friends and their parents who want to take advantage of your situation.”
“It’s already done, we can’t change the past.” I knew I had been impulsive and stupid, I had ruined my only opportunity, but I couldn’t continue living in the shadows.
Some slaves brought us breakfast and after eating Vasuman left me to go to his meeting with the other generals. I wondered if they would ask about me or if they had already decided that I wasn’t worth their time. I was thinking about the meeting when someone knocked on the door.
“Are you there?” I heard Lamia calling from the other side of the door. “Can you open the door?” I opened the door and found Kozlak and Lamia on the other side.
“Come on in.” I invited them and got back to the bed, Lamia jumped in with me, but Kozlak stood at the side of the bed.
“My Exception and I wanted to see how you were doing.” Said Lamia.
“Exception?” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Exception to the rule.” Kozlak said, and I understood what Lamia was talking about. Kozlak was the only guy Lamia would sleep with that wasn’t a colonel or a general. “That joke is getting real old, Lamia.” He complained, but I could see that he wasn’t angry, they were just like Shahzadi and Lobishomen, they could spend months apart, but couldn’t help to gravitate toward each other when close. “Anyway, we came here to see you and apologize for what happened yesterday. That wasn’t what we were planning.”
“Yeah, we’re sorry.” Lamia took my hand and I could feel the energy flowing into me. “We all feel the same, especially Geb, he doesn’t want you to think ill of him, he was truly trying to help.”
“Boyar told us that you didn’t tell him who were the ones who helped you get your memory back, and that if it wasn’t for us he wouldn’t have found out.” Kozlak said. “Geb, Agis, Inionri and Vikomt are gone, their parents decided to keep them away from Kamose in case he found out and try to punish them.”
“Not that it would help much,” Lamia said, “I mean, he is not stupid, sooner or later he will find out who did it. But I think that they are exaggerating, there are a lot of generals and only one emperor, they should be able to pressure him into an acceptable response.”
“It won’t help,” I said, “Kamose is the emperor for one reason, he is stronger than the generals. Besides, as you already saw, for them, I’m nothing but a piece in the game of power. I’m too unstable to be useful and too dangerous to keep alive.”
“That’s what Boyar said.” Lamia looked at my eyes. “What is the deal with Boyar? Was yesterday an act like Vasuman’s?”
“Not really, Boyar is really a son of a bitch. Vasuman doesn’t trust him, neither Boyar trusts Vasuman. I don’t think that Boyar knows that I’m a pirokinetic, but he knows that Vasuman is not as cruel to me as he appears to be.” I wasn’t sure how to explain. “Boyar is the one who offered me to Vasuman as his concubine, and I’m sure that every decision he makes is thinking of his well being, not mine.”
“Yesterday they were mad at Boyar for letting Vasuman take you as his lover,” Lamia said, “but Boyar said that there would be no consequences because of that.” I knew why Boyar had said that, maybe Lamia knew too, but she wasn’t saying it.
“The generals are worried about me giving him an heir, is unthinkable to have a royal heir with common blood. That’s why they are mad at Vasuman.” I explained.
“Gaia thinks that any child you conceived will be a strong candidate to the throne, even if you are not.” Said Kozlak.
“And I’m sure she nominated Geb as my partner,” I guessed, “I’m sure she explained that he was a better choice than Vasuman. Did Boyard tell you that it was impossible?”
“He said something like that” Lamia admitted, “but he didn’t explain why it was impossible.” That was the question they wanted to ask but couldn’t.
“Well, I can’t have children,” I said and I could see that it was what they had already guessed, “after everything that happened, after everything they did to me, pregnancy is no longer possible.” I felt cold, I remembered when they had first told me that I was barren, that the scars they had given me made it impossible for me to get pregnant. At first I was happy, the least I wanted was to have those monsters’ children. The idea of Agmong or any of the others leaving me pregnant was awful. But things had changed, and I felt hollow without the possibility.
“Oh dear!” Lamia hugged me and then wiped away the tears running down my face. Kozlak sat next to me without a word, he put his open hand next to mine, leaving me the option to take it or not, as I wished.
I put my hand in Kozlak’s and I remembered the days we spent as part of the same squad. Kozlak’s powers have always intrigued me. He could borrow other people’s powers and sometimes he let me use him to understand other people’s powers. Now that I was connected to Kozlak and Lamia I could see the energy flowing between us, I could almost understand the way Lamia manipulated the energy.
“I had forgotten how fun and useful your power is.” I told Kozlak.
“And I have forgotten how receptive you are.” He said, guessing that I was seeing Lamia’s power thanks to him. “You are the only one I have been able to share my power like this.
“I wish I could learn to do what you do Kozlak, it would save me so much time in learning new powers.” I wanted to use Kozlak’s power to speed my learning process so I could use different powers. I knew that the only way I could stop being afraid of what other people would do to me was to be stronger than everyone else.
“You kind of already do.” He said as he played with my hand. “Your telekinesis is just the base of your powers, I have never met anyone who could control as many elements as you. I know I helped you to understand Sultana’s aerokinesis and Ratri’s umbrakinesis, but I don’t remember helping you with Geb’s terrakinesis or Vasuman’s pirokinesis.”
“But it is easier with you, it was faster.”
“It was cheating,” Lamia said, “no one should have so many powers, is impossible to have so much control. That’s why Kozlak’s power is limited to contact, it would be unfair otherwise.”
“The world is full of unfair advantages.” I was thinking of Caracalla and his blue eyes.
Kozlak and Lamia spent hours with, just talking about the past and the present, playing to guess our futures. After we ate together they left me, they said that I needed rest, but I knew that they wanted to be alone.
I haven’t seen Vasuman all day and I was getting worried. When someone knocked on the door, I almost hoped was him, but he wouldn’t knock, he would just walk in. Lamia and Kozlak would have announced themselves. I got up and went to the door. I felt a slight mental brush and I knew who it was.
“What are you doing here?” I asked as soon as I opened the door.
“Can I talk to you?” asked Trajan. “I just need a minute.”
I knew that Trajan was not like Caracalla, but I wasn’t sure of his intentions. I was still surprised by how he had acted n e throne room, I never expected him to protect me. We never had problems, but neither a good relationship.
“Come on in.” I said after an uncomfortable long pause. I moved away, keeping some space between us, just in case. Trajan stepped in, but stood just next to the door.
“First of all, I want you to know that I had nothing to do with what happened to you,” he said, “my father and my brother don’t always share their plans, even though I have to tell them everything I do. By the way, I won’t ask you anything about how you recovered your memory or how you did what you did, and please, don’t tell me anything you don’t want Caracalla to know of. I’m not very good at hiding my thoughts from him,” he warned me. He took a moment to compose himself, he looked uncomfortable. “I always thought that Caracalla was involved in your death somehow, when I thought that you were dead, but I never, ever, imagined that he could do something like this.”
“It wasn’t just Caracalla, Kamose was the one who erased my memory and sent me to sector 32.”
“I don’t know the details, but I know that my father had something different planned, he is mad at Caracalla for messing with his plans. Caracalla is in his room under arrest, he hasn’t been able to leave his room since your apparition.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s really hard to believe what you are telling me.” Even after seeing Kamose hit Caracalla, I just couldn’t picture him being mad at Cacaralla.
“It’s ok, I don’t blame you. I know that you don’t have any reason to trust me, I never was a true brother to you. But I always admired you, I wanted to be more like you. You were never afraid of opposing Caracalla.”
“Well, opposing him didn’t work out for me, you have seen what it did to me.”
“Still, you are better than him. Caracalla knows you are, that’s why he hates you, because he fears you. I would like to offer you my help, but I know it won’t help you much. I just need you to know that I’m not your enemy.”
“Thanks, I will consider it.” I wasn’t sure about him, I didn’t trust him. He could be part of Kamose or Caracalla’s plan to hurt me, maybe they had sent him to gain my trust and get my secrets.
“Well, that’s all I wanted to say, I’m really sorry about everything.” He got up and opened the door, I saw him making a signal to someone outside and I tensed, prepared for an attack, but the person who entered the room was not who I expected. “I heard that you had refused to go to the infirmary and I thought that you could use her help.”
“My lady!” Ilum was surprised to see me, “What did they do to you?!”
“Ilum?” my mother’s favorite slave, the one who had so many times helped me, cured my wounds after a battle. She was a symbol to me, the representation of my mother’s love and concern for my well being.
“I will let you catch up, I really hope everything works out for you, sister, I hope to see you again.” Trajan left the room, leaving us alone.
Ilum walked through the room until she was next to me. She extended her hand, as if she wanted to touch me, but was afraid to do so.
“I thought you were dead, like your mother, I can’t believe that you are really here.” She whispered. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t help but hug her.
“I never thought I would see you again.” I told her.
“Let me check you.” She asked after a moment.
“I’m fine.” I said, but she was looking at my scars and wasn’t convinced by my words. “Really.”
“Please, it’s my job to help you.” She insisted and I went back to bed to let her check me. Ilum put one of her hands on my forehead and held my hand on the other. I was watching her face and I saw how she was concentrating hard, then her face changed, first she was alarmed, then horrified. “I don’t get this place, how can they do so terrible things to their own people?” She was crying, and I felt guilty about it.
“Don’t worry about me Ilum, I’ll be fine, is nothing, just a few scars, nothing bad.” I wasn’t sure if I was trying to convince her or me.
“It was my duty to be by your side, to make sure you were alright. If only I knew you were alive, I would have helped you. Your mother wouldn’t have allowed something like this happening, she always cared for you. She used to say that you were her legacy, her most important accomplishment. If she was alive…”
“But she is dead, mother is gone and we can’t change that.” I was surprised when Ilum climbed on the bed next to me, she hugged me and put my head on her lap. She started stroking my hair and I felt I was back in a time when I was captain Kaiserin from the Maxima family, empress Sultana’s daughter. A time when my only concern was to wake up on time to be by my mother’s side and do a good work. A time when, after a fight, I woke up to be in Ilum’s arms, with my injuries healed and the pain gone.
“We can’t change the past, but we can try for a better future,” she said after a while. “I want to give you the opportunity of a future.
Ilum’s touch was warm and comforting and after a while I fell asleep. At first I was dreaming, but then things changed and I realized I was in my mental landscape, and I wasn’t alone.
I felt the intruder and went looking for him, I found him just in the middle of the labyrinth. Kamose was standing next to the cage I had built for him last time he had been there, he was looking at the memories in there.
‘This is not what I wanted for you.’ He said when I was close to him.
‘And what did you want? For them to kill me before I got the opportunity to recover my memories?’
‘I was hoping you would have a quiet time in sector 14, a place where no one would know who you were and your memories wouldn’t have a chance of getting out.’ I walked around him, I wanted to see his face as he lied to me. ‘But I didn’t expect Caracalla’s hate to be so strong. I have to admit I’m proud of his ability to get things done, I’m just disappointed that he used those abilities for this.’
‘I don’t believe you’ he had to be lying. ‘You were intelligence chief and then you became the emperor. You have all the power, a young warrior couldn’t have been smarter than you. Besides, I saw the reports that were being sent here.’
‘I did ask for reports, but the ones I received were falsifications made by Caracalla. I didn’t see the originals until yesterday.’ Kamose turned and stepped closer to me. ‘I have made a lot of mistakes, but trusting Caracalla is one of the biggest. I should have known that he would do something like this, it’s just that I wanted to believe that he wouldn’t disobey me like that. I didn’t want to see that he was fooling me, so I turned a blind eye to his intrigues.’
‘That doesn’t change anything. I won’t forget years of torture and humiliations just because you say it was a mistake.’
‘I know that, and I know that asking for you to forgive me would be a waste of time. But I still have to decide what to do with you.’ I was getting angrier by the moment, he had destroyed my life and he didn’t even care, he still had the nerve to stand there and talk about my future as if it was something unimportant. My mental landscape was changing around us, closing in to us.
‘To be honest, I thought you were just going to kill me,’ I said.
‘I have never intended to kill you.’
‘No, of course not. It would have been too kind of you to just kill me, you wanted me to suffer.’
‘I considered to go back to my original plan, to seal your powers and send you to sector 14.’
‘No!’ I was panicking, my anger forgotten and replaced by fear. ‘You can’t do that, I can’t go through that again.’
‘Don’t worry, I won’t, too many people know about you now, you no longer have anonymity necessary for that to work.’ I was terrified, I knew that I was not strong enough to survive again if he decided to wipe my memory again. ‘You complicated this for me. You have no idea what your presence here has done. It would be dangerous, for both of us, to send you to one of the sectors controlled by your mother’s siblings. I can’t send you to any sector that holds any importance. I can’t have you here in the Palace, it wouldn’t be a good idea to have you here with my children. The best option is to send you back to Vasuman, but I don’t like the idea of you being in his power… I’m not sure what would be best for all of us.’
‘I really doubt that you are here to ask for my opinion. You must know that the only thing I want is to get my life back, but I know that you won’t acknowledge me, you will never give me my rightful place back. But I don’t know what would be worse, to go back or to have to start over again.’
‘I see that you have most of your memories back,’ he changed the subject. ‘I never thought it would be possible, to overcome the pain long enough to get the memories back. That’s impressive, older, more experienced warriors have failed in doing that.’
‘There is still a memory I can’t see.’ There was no point in lying to him, I knew that he could see the state of my mind.
‘I’m afraid that memory is one you won’t recover, because is not really yours to recover,’ he explained. ‘That’s a memory you stole from my mind, Cerridwen’s last words. I couldn’t erase it, but it doesn’t have the same connections to you as the other memories so is not really an easy task to recover in the best of scenarios. I did take special measures to make sure you never see that vision. But I should have known that it would be useless, even if you don’t know about it, Cerridwen’s visions always prove to be true.’
‘Cerridwen had a vision about me?’ I was really curious.
‘That’s right, she predicted that you would end up back here. I was foolish enough to think I could prevent it, but I should know better, she was very powerful. There were many possible futures for you, some of them showed you sitting on the throne. But I know that as long as I can keep you away from here I can prevent that. I won’t let you take the throne that belongs to the Regal’s.’
‘I don’t know what you want,’ I wasn’t even sure what that talk was about, ‘but you should know that I never wanted my mother’s throne, not then, not now.’
‘Everyone wants to rule.’
‘I used to think that everything I needed to be happy was to do my job and make my mother proud, now all I think about is revenge.’
‘That’s another reason to keep you away from here. I can’t allow you to repeat yesterday’s attack.’
‘So, are you sending me back to Vasuman?’
‘Seems like my best choice.’ Kamose’s image disappeared from my mind after those words.
I was angry after our chat, also uneasy. But his words have helped me to strengthen my resolve to kill Caracalla. It wasn’t going to be easy, it was clear that Kamose would support Caracalla no matter what. Being against Kamose’s favorite child was the same as being against him.
I woke up when the door in my room closed. I was sleepy and wasn’t thinking clearly when Vasuman approached me.
“What happened to your arm?” Vasuman sounded surprised.
“What?” I had no idea what he was talking about. I sat up, trying to clear my mind. Ilum, next to me, seemed to be still sleeping.
“Kaiserin, what happened?” Vasuman’s tone finally made me completely wake up.
“Vasuman, this is Ilum, my mother’s personal slave and healer. Ilum?” I tried to wake her up, but she wasn’t responding. I shook her, but she didn’t respond. Then I noticed the blood running out of her nose and ears. “Ilum?” I was getting desperate trying to wake her.
“Kaiserin?” Vasuman’s voice came closer, he was standing next to me.
“Ilum, wake up! Is not the time to be sleeping, you need to be awake.” As I shook her I finally noticed that my arm was scar free. I took a second to see my other arm and saw that there was no trace of scars. I suspected what had happened, but I didn’t want to think about it. “Wake up Ilum, wake up!”
“She is dead.” Vasuman tried to take me away from her.
“That’s not true,” but deep down I knew he was right, “she was fine just a few minutes go.”
“This woman has been by your side for the past fifteen hours, the same time you have been asleep. I don’t know when she died, but you haven’t talked to her in hours.” Vasuman was pulling me away from her and it reminded me of the day my mother died. I remembered how they had taken my mother away from me, and it was happening again, he was taking me away from the only person that had showed me love and had cared for me.
“Ilum!? Ilum!” I used my mind to push Vasuman away from me and went back to Ilum. I took her in my arms. For a moment, by her side, everything had been alright. Now she was dead, and it was my fault. She was a part of my old life, a symbol of my mother’s love, and she was dead.
“Kaiserin, take it easy, she is just a slave!”
“Just a slave? Just a slave?! Do you think that because she is a slave, she is worthless?” He didn’t understand how important she was to me, what she represented.
Tears were running down my face and falling on Ilum. I heard the door opening and saw Vasuman leaving. It was for the best, I didn’t want him there, I wanted to be alone. But he returned with two soldiers.
“They are going to take Ilum,” Vasuman said, “they need to take her away.”
“No, I don’t want them to, not yet.” I held Ilum closer to me. I wasn’t going to let them take her away like they took my mother.
“Kaiserin,” Vasuman put his hand on my shoulder, “it’s time to let her go. She is dead.” I felt something cold on my shoulder and then a prick, Vasuman was injecting me with something. “This will help you relax.”
I immediately felt tired and weak. My arms opened and they took Ilum from me. I felt empty. It was as if the world was falling on me.
Vasuman wrapped me in my travel cloak and took me in his arms. I saw as in a dream as he took me out of the Palace and into our vehicle. Through my tears I watched the Palace getting smaller as we went away. I was leaving my home once again. Nothing would ever be the same, I finally realized that.
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