It was the first time since our return from the Palace that I stepped outside our bedroom. At first I had stayed there because I wanted to be alone, then it was Vasuman who decided that it was best if I stayed hidden until Adze returned to her sector. It had been a long time, and I felt the stares on me as soon as I was outside. How much did they know about my nervous meltdown? In the Empire any kind of weakness was could be used against you, I didn’t want them to think they could take advantage of me.
I went to my office, stopping just for a moment outside of Zounkla’s and Aekn’s offices to call them. They stepped outside and followed me to my office.
“Is everything alright?” Aekn asked once we were behind closed doors. “There are a lot of rumors about what happened to you at the Palace.”
“I had a fight and since then I had been in recovery.” I wondered what Zounkla had told him about my adventure in the Palace, how much did everyone know about it. “But I’m ok. I know that I haven’t been paying attention to my duty, so I need you to put me up to speed about any problems I have to take care of.”
“Aekn, why don’t you fetch the reports of these last weeks while I inform her about the last issues?” Zounkla asked.
“Fine, I’ll be back in a minute,” Aekn exited the room and Zounkla approached me.
“The official version is that you had a fight with the Emperor and you were exiled here. All this Sklave business is done, is no longer necessary to keep the pretense, everyone knows you are Kaiserin.” Zounkla informed me. “Unfortunately, some soldiers saw you crying and the news of your meltdown was spread before we could contain it.”
“Well, I suppose it was too much to ask for no one to notice it.” I thought out loud.
“But is ok, they know that you are an heiress, daughter of Empress Sultana. With a little bit of time they will forget that you were once known as Sklave.”
“That would be too much to ask, there’s some people that will never forget that I was Sklave. But it doesn’t matter right now. Anything else I should know?” I asked, wanting to get back to work.
Aekn returned and we spent all morning talking and planning, not much had happened in my absence, but I needed to know everything, even the small things could make a difference. Both of them left at noon, I just took a few minutes to organize my things and went looking for something to eat. When I was just a few steps from the outside door I heard a conversation.
“You don’t know what you are talking about.” Aekn was saying.
“I’m just saying, that for me it would be embarrassing to follow orders from the general’s mistress, maybe you are ok with that, but that’s you, not me.” I didn’t recognize the voice, but I was getting angry just hearing about it.
“Well, maybe there are some side benefits of being under her” a new voice, one that I knew but couldn’t identify, some of the newly promoted I guessed. “Have you seen her? She is a delicious piece of meat, I wouldn’t mind letting her boss me around if I could fuck her.”
“You’re right, I heard she used to be a barrack slut before the general decided to take her, she should know how to please a man,” the first man said.
“Be careful with what you said.” Warned Aekn.
“That’s true boys, is never a good idea to underestimate the Colonel, she didn’t get her rank because she was the general’s lover, that came later” Modra defended me. “Besides, this is not a good place to be talking, you never know who could be listening.” Did she know I was listening to them?
“I just know that if she was here I would…” I couldn’t hear the rest, he lowered his voice, but I could hear the laughter that erupted because of his words and I could imagine what he said.
I decided to keep walking, I have heard enough. Aekn and Modra were standing outside, next to the door, two other men were standing near them, and next to them was Arkta.
“Well, look what we have here,” said the man closer to me, the first I have heard, “we were just talking about you. Why don’t you join us, we were about to go for something to eat.” He took a couple of steps closer to me, extending his hand in invitation.
I looked at his hand and took hold of it with my mind, breaking his wrist before pushing him against the wall. His friend moved away, scared by my actions, but he controlled himself quickly.
“Thanks, but no thanks.” I saw Modra smiling, but Aekn looked worried. “I will give you an advice instead,” the man, a lieutenant colonel, was trying very hard not to show his pain. “I don’t appreciate people who speak behind my back or think they can touch me without permission, so in the future, it would be in your best interest to keep your mouth shut and to stay away from me.”
“Do you think you can scare me with just a couple of cheap tricks?” He was walking towards me, but I knew that he was just trying to save face in front of the others, his movements were cautious, he was scared.
“You’ve been warned, don’t come closer, don’t dare to touch me, or I will teach you to be afraid of me.”
All my senses were on alert, I was expecting him or his friend to attack me any moment. I established a connection with the air around me, that way I could try to prevent any surprise attack. But when I felt something wrong the threat wasn’t coming from them, it was from someone else. I felt the wind changing behind me and I moved trying to see what it was. The bullet flew past me, managing to chafe my arm before hitting the floor. I knew that if I hadn’t moved the bullet would have gone through my heart. I searched for the source of the shot. Aekn was now standing next to me, ready to help me or protect me as I needed.
I looked up and saw movement in the roof of a nearby building and ran after it. I looked around, everyone was already preparing to fend the possible attack. The shot was out of the ordinary, someone from our Clan would never attack a colonel and the idea of the enemy inside our base was impossible.
I saw a man jump from one building to the other and using my mind I made him fall. I thought the fall had disabled him, so I approached him without precaution, I was just a couple of steps from him when he moved, a firearm in his hand, pointed at me. I was too close to dodge him and my powers were not strong enough to stop a bullet. He smiled and I saw him squeeze the trigger. My mind was blank as I stated at the gun, I was sure the bullet would kill me that time, but Aekn pushed me out of its way, saving me.
The body of the attacker was hit by several rounds and I knew that between the fall and now the bullets he wouldn’t survive.
“No! We needed him alive for interrogation,” I complained, “How are we going to know who he was and what he wanted?”
“He wanted you dead,” for a moment I believed I was imagining that voice. “I wanted to warn you, but we are late.” Dendro and a woman from his clan were standing close to me, surrounded by a few soldiers from our sector.
“Identify!” Aekn asked, as he stood between us, protecting me from any possible aggression.
“Calm down, he is Dendro, the Assassin’s Clan heir.” I walked around Aekn and went to greet Dendro and his companion.
“Is there a place where we could talk in private?” Dendro asked. “I really need to speak to you.”
“Of course, let’s go to the conference room, is soundproof and no one will bother us there. Follow me.” I guided them back to the building I had just exited, Modra and the others were still standing outside the door.
“Is everything ok?” Modra asked me when she saw me.
“Yes, everything is fine,” I said as we walked past her. We went into the conference room and I closed the door. I waited for both of them to be seated and took my place in the table, waiting for them to talk.
“I think that you haven’t been introduced,” Dendro started, “she is my partner Ivy. Ivy, this is Kaiserin from the Maxima family, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.
“I know the story.” Ivy said impatiently. She was a beautiful woman, she looked small and fragile, but I knew looks were deceiving, she could be a strong warrior. Her eyes were not red like mine or Dendro’s, they were dark green, and they looked darker as she glared at me. Her hair was red, like fire, I thought she looked beautiful.
“You said she was your partner?” I wasn’t sure the meaning of that term among the Assassins.
“She is poisonous like me,” Dendro explained, “and a strong warrior. Our parents decided for her to be my partner, she will be by my side once I become the ruler of my Clan, she will be my companion and the mother of my children.”
“That’s an interesting concept.” I wondered if Ivy’s bad mood was because she wasn’t happy with the arrangement of it had to do with something else. “What brings you here?”
“What just happened wasn’t an accident, Caracalla just put a price on your head, this will not be the last attempt on your life.” For a minute I thought he was lying to me.
“How do you know this?”
“Well, we are from the Assassin’s Clan, this kind of jobs is usually sent our way.” He said like it was obvious. “We didn’t accept the contract, we have a debt to you greater than anything he could offer, but we know that other clans will not act like us, the reward is very good after all.”
“What’s the reward for my head?” I wanted to know how much my life was worth.
“You only need to know that you will have to be careful from now on.” Was Dendro’s answer.
“Maybe it would be best for you to go to another sector, you should hide until this settles down.” Ivy said.
“I won’t run away like a scared little girl.” I wasn’t going to let Caracalla turn me again into a scared victim, afraid of her own shadow. I needed to learn to defend myself, not to hide.
“You have no idea what you are dealing with.” Ivy pressed on.
“And you have no idea who you are talking to.” Our talk was interrupted by someone knocking the door, without moving from the place I opened the door. “What?” I asked.
“We bring food,” said a timid man from the door, “lieutenant colonel Aekn send us.”
“That’s considerate of him.” It was a good call, we were after all on our way to eat when I was attacked. “Leave the food and go.”
“Of course, Colonel.” They put several dishes on the table. The food looked delicious and I suddenly realized I was starving.
“There is no way of knowing how many people will be after you,” Dendro said once we were alone again. “You are not safe here.”
“If what you say is true, I will not be safe anywhere.” I wondered how many more attacks I would face, did Kamose know about it? “I’m grateful for your warning.”
“Is the least I could do for you.” He leaned closer to me and I saw myself reflected in his eyes. “I know you don’t want to hide, but what do you think of spending a few days with my clan? You can stay while we try to find who else is after you. We can try and gather information to help keep you safe.
“I don’t think that is a good idea,” Ivy said before I could answer, “that would put our own clan at risk.”
“Is the least we can do.” Dendro said in a tone that left no room for discussion.
“Is an interesting proposition,” one I was sure Vasuman would never agree to, “but I don’t think it’s the right one for me.”
“The offer is there if you ever change your mind.” He offered. “What happened in the Palace?” Dendro changed the subject. “I didn’t have the opportunity to see you after the reunion. I felt guilty for not being able to talk to you before you left, but now that I see you… you look like before. You look good.”
“Thanks, I guess.” I saw that Ivy was angry again. “As you see the scars were mostly eradicated, and yes, I’m much better.”
“I’m really happy for you.” Dendro sounded sincere, but I saw that his partner didn’t share his feelings.
I extended my mind, trying to understand. ‘Nothing special’ she was thinking, ‘I’m more beautiful than her, stronger.’ Should I let her know I was listening to her? ‘I don’t know why Dendor thinks she’s so interesting. He should be thinking about me.’
I didn’t have to say anything, because at that moment Vasuman opened the door and entered the room, he wasn’t alone, with him I could see some captains, part of his escort, and Modra, Zounkla and Aekn.
“Are you alright?” he asked me.
“Of course, everything is fine.” I automatically answered.
“Then what is this?” he grabbed my arm and pull me until I was standing, “this is not nothing.” I was what he was talking about, blood from the cut the bullet had made in my arm had soaked my uniform. The cut was superficial, but it looked bad because of the blood.
“Let her go.” Ordered Dendro, using a voice only fitting for a future Clan leader. “If she is really injured you are not helping, you are making it worse.”
“Who do you think you are to talk to me like that?” Vasuman roared without letting me go.
“He is the Assassins’ heir,” I said, “he is here to help me.” I tried to move away, but Vasuman wasn’t letting me go. “Please, calm down, it’s nothing, is not the first time I been grazed by a bullet, remember the shooting practice?” His face didn’t change, but the way he looked at me let me know he understood my reference.
“You should go to the infirmary.” Vasuman said calmly as he released me.
“We were eating before you interrupted, there is no difference if I wait until I finish my meal.” Vasuman wasn’t happy, but he didn’t insist.
“Then I will stay here and go with you once you finish your meal.” He closed the door, leaving the rest of the group outside. “Now, I would like you to explain what is that heir doing here.” He said pointing to Dendro.
“Like I told Kaiserin, I’m here to warn her about the danger she is facing.” Dendro was very aggressive towards Vasuman, at first I was surprised by his attitude, but then I remembered that in the eyes of everyone Vasuman was just my oppressor, and I was just his sex toy.
“What danger?” Vasuman was heating, I could feel the heat coming out of him in waves, he was a second from bursting into flames.
“I already told Kaiserin what I needed to.” Dendro kept eating as if he didn’t have a furious general in front of him. I had to admire his demeanor, he was so relaxed in front of someone as powerful as Vasuman.
“I don’t care if you are an heir, you are in my territory and if I ask a question then you have to answer.” His voice was leveled, but the entire room was hot.
“Vasuman?” I tried to calm him down. “This is not necessary.” He should know that I would willingly share with him anything Dendro had told me.
“Stay out of this!” he screamed as he hit the table with his fist.
Dendro stood up and I saw he was prepared to attack Vasuman. I didn’t want things to escalate, I was afraid of the consequences.
“I think this is a good moment for you to walk me to the infirmary.” I whispered, hoping just Vasuman could hear.
“What’s wrong?” Just like that Vasuman forgot about Dendro and focused his attention on me.
“I’m sorry Dendro, we will have to continue our talk at another time, right now I need to go.” I stood up and Vasuman was right by my side, I took his arm for support as if I was too weak to move on my own. They all thought I was a weak and fragile girl, so I guessed my act would make them forget their fight.
“Are you ok?” Dendro asked, concern in his voice.
“Yes, I just need to go out for a moment.” Vasuman opened the door and I saw the rest of Vasuman’s group still waiting outside. “Zounkla,” I called, “prepare a room for Dendro and his partner, they are my guests.”
“Right away Colonel.”
“Aekn?” Please stay with them and make sure they are treated well.
“As you wish Colonel.”
“You have some explanations to make.” Vasuman said.
“And I will, just not right now. Could you tell me what happened to the man who attacked me?”
“He is dead, they are checking him, but they haven’t found anything that could tell us what clan he is from or why he attacked you.”
“It was Caracalla’s fault,” I explained. Dendro told me he put a price on my head. That man won’t be the only one to try something against me. Dendro came to warn me, he said I have to expect more attacks.”
“I don’t like that heir,” Vasuman said, “I want him out of this sector as soon as possible.”
“He is a friend of mine, he came to warn me about Caracalla’s plans, the least we could do is receive him and treat him as he deserves.”
“I don’t like the way he looks at you.” Vasuman was angry, but I didn’t know what he was talking about. But we reached the infirmary and our talk stopped.
As I expected the cut was nothing to worry about, but I had lost blood and they recommended me to take it easy. Vasuman didn’t let me out of his sight for the rest of the day, and I spent the day by his side, like a good mistress. I was with him while he received the reports of the attack and the attacker, nothing of importance had been discovered. He also received reports about the attacks from other clans, those had diminished considerably, but that was also something to worry about. We had dinner together and, as usual, went to bed together.
Vasuman fell asleep after sex, as usual, so I was able to leave his room without him noticing. I walked in the dark, knowing that every shadow could hide a murderer. But I reached the place were Dendro and his men were staying without difficulties. I knocked on their door and was received by a familiar face, one of the young warriors I had rescued from the New World Clan received me.
“How can I be of service?” she bowed at me.
“I’m looking for Dendro.” Without further explanation she moved to let me inside. She went looking for Dendro, who didn’t take long to appear.
“Kaiserin.” He greeted me with a smile. I realized I had woken him up, his uniform was incomplete, like he has dressed in a hurry, I could see his naked chest under his jacket. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine, I’m sorry for leaving you like that.” I really was, but at the time I didn’t see any other choice.
“I was worried when you didn’t return. I don’t like you being with that guy.” He walked me to the corner of the chamber and we sat. No one else was in sight, I supposed they were all in their rooms, but even the woman that had received me was gone. “You need to reconsider my offer and come with us, I won’t feel comfortable knowing you are here alone, with him.”
“Like I said this afternoon, I won’t run away. Besides Vasuman is not as bad as you think.” I tried to justify his actions, but I knew that the way he treated me in public didn’t help. Even if he had been civil and caring that day, Dendro obviously remembered the way he had treated me at the Palace.
“You don’t have to endure this situation,” he said, “I know that being with someone you don’t want is difficult, even more if is someone like him who doesn’t treat you like you deserve.”
“It’s not like that, I’m here because I want to.”
“Because you want or because you have no other choice?”
“Are we still talking about me? Or about you and Ivy?” I understood Ivy’s attitude better now, if this is how Dendro felt about her it shouldn’t be easy for her.
“I really don’t have a choice, my condition limits my options, as an heir I need to secure my lineage. Ivy is a great warrior and is poisonous like me, that makes her perfect for me. We don’t have a choice, I can’t be with the woman I want because doing so will kill her. You have options. I’m sure many people will do anything for you, you don’t have to stay here with a beast like Vasuman.”
“My situation is not that simple, my options are very limited, and believe it or not I’m doing what is best for me. You need to make the best of every situation. Besides, I think you are mistaken about something, you may be in your situation out of duty, but I believe that Ivy is with you because she wants to. You should give her an opportunity.”
“She is just doing what she has to.” But even as he spoke I could see Dendro thinking about my words.
“This is weird.” I thought out loud. I had seen Dendro just a few times, but talking to him was so easy.
“What?” He sounded concerned.
“How easy is to talk to you.”
“I don’t see how that is weird.” Dendro leaned closer to me and smiled, for a moment he wasn’t Dendro the Assassin’s heir, he was my friend. “You saved my life, we escaped the enemy together, that’s an experience that draws people closer. I will always owe you for saving me and my people, you can always count on me.” He went back to his previous demeanor. “If it’s in my hands to help you, then I will.”
It was nice to have unconditional support from someone like Dendro, even if I didn’t deserve it. We talked for hours, about ourselves, our futures, our clans. By the time I left the first rays of sun where illuminating the sky.
I returned to my room, but as soon as I crossed the door, I knew something was off, the door closed behind me and someone grabbed me.
“Where were you?” Vasuman was mad, he had his arm around my neck and I was struggling to breathe. I used my mind to break his hold and walked to the center of the room, trying to put some distance between us. “Who were you with?”
“I went to talk to Dendro, just talk.” Vasuman was walking to me and I could see he didn’t like my answer.
“I don’t remember giving you permission to talk to him.” I thought about several comebacks, but I knew that I had to placate him, not getting him angrier. “You cannot be outside alone, you can’t put yourself at risk, especially not because you want to see him.”
“I’m sorry,” I tried to sound sincere despite my own anger and the fear I was feeling, “it won’t happen again.”
“How am I supposed to keep you safe if you do stupid things like this?” He asked, angry at me. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Nothing?” I sauntered to him and kissed him.
I could feel his anger. It was in the way he kissed me back. He needed to make me his, to know I was only his. He tore my clothes off, his hands brusquely moved possessively along my body.
I knew he was not going to let me leave the room for the rest of the day, nor was he going to let me see Dendro again.
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