I used a curtain of air to stop the wall of fire coming my way. I dodged the attack and searched for Vasuman in the sea of fire surrounding me. I was preparing to hit him with something he couldn’t dodge, when I felt the pain, like someone was sticking a knife in the back of my neck. I was driven to my knees by the pain, I needed all my energy to repel the mental attack, but by doing so I was powerless to stop the fire.
“You don’t have to stop everything to fight the mental attack.” Jomei told me. “That’s what a double mind is for, you can do both at the same time.” Jomei didn’t stop the attack, but stood between the fire and me. The fire started to die and I saw Vasuman walking towards us.
“I think that is enough for today.” Vasuman said.
“No, we need to continue, this is not enough,” Jomei answered, “she still cannot control her double mind.”
“Of course she can, didn’t you see her moving as she sent that air column against me?” Vasuman asked. “And you know that she can function even when she is under your mental attacks. That’s using a double mind.”
“I’m trying to get her to use telekinesis and telepathy at the same time.” Jomei wasn’t stopping or even decreasing the strength of his attack.
“That’s impossible,” Vasuman said, “that can’t be done.”
“That right there is the problem, you keep using that word.” I saw Jomei facing Vasuman. Vasuman was taller and stronger than Jomei, but he was facing him without concern. “It’s impossible for a Maxima to have a double mind, is impossible to be able to use telekinesis and telepathy, there are a lot of impossibles, general, that we have already proved to be possible. Kaiserin is special, and we can’t know what she is able to do unless we try first.”
I was paying attention to the conversation, but also fighting Jomei’s mental attack. I finally find the way to stop the attack and the pain went down enough for me to recover.
“Jomei is right,” Vasuman turned to look at me, not pleased by my words, “I need to keep training, I need to be able to fight more than one enemy at the time. The bounty hunters after me know that I’m not an easy prey, they are increasing their attacks, I need to be prepared.”
“No, you don’t, you just need to be by my side where I can keep you protected.” Vasuman was sure that was the best option, but he couldn’t keep me chained to his side forever.
“You can’t come with me in my mission, and I can’t refuse to go.” Vasuman knew that, he had done everything in his power to keep me from going, even sending someone else, but all he had accomplished was to lose a squad and disapproval from the Palace.
“All we can do is make sure she is prepared to face whatever she finds there,” Jomei said, “Caracalla knows about this mission, no doubt he already told his contacts.”
“That’s exactly why she shouldn’t go alone.” I knew Vasuman’s patience was running low.
“There is no choice, is a direct order from the Emperor, one you can’t ignore again.” Jomei warned.
“Let’s continue,” I asked, “I need more training.”
The attempts to take my life had been more and more frequent. I had forced myself to trainings more challenging after each attempt, so far it had worked, but I was at the limit of my abilities. The last attack had been a combined attack from a telepath that had targeted my mind and a hybrid that had almost succeeded in killing me because I was distracted. I had been saved by the escort Vasuman had forced me to accept, but it became obvious I needed to be stronger and better. That’s why Jomei had come to help me. Jomei was the only one who understood the concept of having no limits, he had a double mind, and the Maxima’s resistance. He was the best choice as a mentor.
After a while I felt like I had accomplished my goal for the day, I had been able to stop both Jomei and Vasuman using only my mind. But I was exhausted, I felt like I was going to collapse any moment.
“Enough for today,” Vasuman said, noticing I was tired. He lifted me in his arms, for a moment I thought about fighting his hold, but I was too tired to do that.
“Are you sure?” Jomei asked. “I’m leaving early tomorrow, this is the last time I will have to help you train before going back to my sector.”
“Don’t you see she can’t fight any more?” Vasuman tightened his hold on me and I was about to tell him he was hurting me.
“She is a Maxima, she is more resistant than you give her credit for.” But Jomei didn’t insist. We both knew I could talk to him by telepathy later and continue my training, Vasuman didn’t need to know that, it was part of the training, as long as he didn’t notice I was doing it right.
I had told Adze that I needed help improving my powers, I didn’t trust Boyar to be around, even less inside my mind, so she has asked her brother Jomei to help me and he had been a great teacher, helping me improve my telepathy. He had helped me to identify those who could be trusted and those who couldn’t. With his help my network of allies had increased. My father had decided to separate my subordinates, sending them to different parts of the Empire, that had helped me, now I had eyes and ears in several sectors. But it was a difficult task, Caracalla’s intelligence networks were better than mine, and I had a few people I could really trust.
Jomei left the following day and the training wasn’t as hard now that he wasn’t there to push Vasuman. But my time wasn’t wasted, I spent most of my free time astral projecting, meeting with my spies in the astral planes where no one could know, not even Vasuman.
“I will go with you to the limit of the sector,” Vasuman informed me the morning previous to my departure.
“It’s really not necessary.” I said, but I knew he wouldn’t change his mind.
“I decide what is necessary Kaiserin.” And with those words he stopped any further discussion.
I had received a mission from the Palace, one I could have never imagined. Twice a year a tribute was asked from the Light Kingdom. Fifty slaves were given to serve at the Palace and other important sectors. People like Ilum was given to us through the people from the Shadows, but for some reason that year they had refused to give the tribute. It was not that surprising that they tried to resist, what was surprising was that they had succeeded so far. When the first convoy sent had failed to return the sectors closer to the Light had sent more people, so far no one had returned. When the order came to send me to retrieve the missing soldiers and to bring the slaves, Vasuman knew it was a trick meant to make me disappear, and had refused to send me. Vasuman had sent another group that was now also missing. I couldn’t avoid going anymore, the order was final.
I had several stops planned on my way, places where I could feel safe. I was received by the Assassins and had a chance to talk to Dendro. At Khreb’s sector I could catch up with Inionri. A stop I had no planned was at the Naturalist’s Clan, but a surprise attack had forced us to change our route and before I knew we were surrounded by Naturalists. Expecting problems and being the person in charge I exited my vehicle and went to talk to them.
“Welcome to the Naturalist Clan.” Greeted me a man that I recognized as Izbran, the Clan’s leader. “It’s an honor to receive you, colonel Kaiserin.”
“Chief Izbran, is me who is honored that the leader of the Naturalist Clan have come to greet me.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I needed to trust he wasn’t going to attack us.
“If I had known you were coming we would have prepared a better welcome, but we can at least offer food and a place to rest to you and your men.
“Some of my people is injured, they need medical attention.”
“Of course,” Izbran said, “we have a place ready to attend you.”
“Even if you didn’t know we were coming?” I wasn’t sure what to expect, last time I had seen Izbran I had almost killed him.
“The animals let us know a group of people was coming.” He said. It was obvious once he said it, in a clan full of zoopaths they had eyes everywhere.
“I should have known.” I looked around, we were in the jungle, the place was full of animals. “You did a great job with the place,” last time I had been there, the jungle had been devastated by fires.
“Just as you knew we would.” I was surprised by his words. “Your mother, the Empress, told us it was your idea to send us here. I have to thank you for that, my Clan owes you its existence.” I wasn’t sure what to say. It never occurred to me that my mother would give me credit for that idea.
“I did what was best for my Clan.”
“It was the best for mine too.” Izbran bowed to me before walking closer to me. “My Clan owes his loyalty to the Imperial Clan, but as leader of this Clan and responsible for its survival I have a debt of honor with you. I hope you can think of me as a personal ally.”
“Thank you Izbran.” His thoughts seem to be in the same line as his words, but I needed to talk to him more before I could trust his intentions.
Izbran and the Naturalists threw a banquet in our honor and tended to my men’s wounds. The more I spent time with Izbran the more I was convinced that his intentions were good. After a couple of days we continued our journey to the Light. Izbran had told us what he knew about the problem. Apparently the previous year the group sent to pick up the slaves had been ambushed by the Beasts one their way back. When the groups had never come back they had suspected the Beasts involvement, but there was no evidence of a battle like the previous year. After the third groups had failed to come back the clan have suspected that it was a problem in the Shadows what was causing the disappearances.
The rest of our travel went smoothly, and that was making me nervous. When we arrived at the Shadowlands, the place where the exiles from the Light lived, I was sure that something bad was happening. We saw the fields empty, the orchards abandoned. The road was difficult and our advance slow, but by the end of the day we arrived to a city.
The place also appeared deserted, but I knew that there were people there, I could feel their minds. I ordered my men to search the place, but as soon as they got out of the vehicles a woman appeared in the road. She was thin, but I could see that she was a woman used to hard work, one of the field workers, maybe. Her skin was dark, toasted by the sun, her hair was dark brown, with highlights caused by the sun. She was wearing a simple garment, a piece of fabric tied on her shoulder and held by a simple cord at her waist. But I was mostly surprised by the way she walked, with security, without fear.
“Greetings,” she smiled, but I could see it was a forced smile. “If you come in peace, welcome, if not, please go away.”
“I don’t think you are in a position to make demands.” Said one of my majors. She was the closest to the woman, and she moved to her.
“Please, I don’t want any trouble.” The woman said.
“Too late.” I couldn’t see her face, but I knew major Orsi was smiling, preparing to attack the woman.
“Orsi.” I called, I didn’t want unnecessary fights, but I was ignored by her.
What happened next was something I wouldn’t have believed if I had not seen it. Orsi ran, preparing to attack, but the woman moved with a speed beyond what a normal person could accomplish and hit Orsi, leaving her out of combat with a single blow.
“What the hell just happened?” Kroppen asked.
“We made a mistake, we shouldn’t underestimate her.” Tankene answered his brother.
My men had moved in different directions, planning to search the place, but now they were all surrounding the woman, but she was still relaxed, no fear showing.
“Please, just go, I don’t want to hurt you.” The woman asked again and I wondered who she was and how she was able to fight a major so easily.
As they closed around her I noticed the woman was waiting for something, I wondered what her plan was, my group had fifty warriors in it, I was sure she had no chance of fighting them. I was wrong.
Tankene attacked her mind, I could tell because Tankene wasn’t moving and the woman’s eyes lost focus and she started trembling, but as Kroppen was closing the distance to hit the woman, a big flash of light erupted, cutting Tankene’s focus and allowing her to move. I saw how she moved around, taking my men out of combat one by one. I thought about fighting her, but it felt wrong, she was just trying to protect herself, we were the invaders, the attackers. The idea of hurting her made me feel guilty.
The woman finished with my men and walked to me. I wasn’t sure what to do. The obvious choice would be to make her pay for her attack to my men, but I didn’t want to, I couldn’t stop thinking it wasn’t the right choice.
“That’s enough Soturi,” said a man I haven’t noticed before. He was tall and tan, his body was thin and delicate, unlike the woman he looked like someone who hadn’t worked a day in the fields. His clothes were very different to the woman’s, he was wearing white pants and a cream tunic with an elaborated embroidery. But the most striking feature was his white hair and eyes gray as ice, but warm and comforting. “There is no need to keep the violence, I can feel her pure soul.”
“Are you sure about that Melchizedek?” the woman, Soturi, asked. “She came here to enslave us, just like the ones before her.”
“Of course I’m sure.” He smiled at me, a warm smile. “Would you like to join us for a cup of coffee?” he asked me.
“Coffee?” It was a strange offer, but I felt like I could trust the man. “Only if you can guarantee that my men are not in danger and that you are going to explain what is going on here.”
“Of course, your men are not in danger,” I could see people exiting the buildings, “none of them is seriously hurt and my friends will make sure they are comfortable.”
“Melch, are you sure is a good idea to invite her to our table?” Soturi was not standing next to the man, holding his arm.
“Of course, my dear, my visions never lie,” he said, putting his hand over hers. “She is the one we were waiting for. Princess Kaiserin is going to be our friend.”
I knew something was wrong, and as I followed Melchizedek and Soturi, I tried to identify what it was. They took me to a hut and made my sat before a simple table. Soturi didn’t stay with us, she went to another room. I stayed with Melchizedek, he was still smiling at me, and I couldn’t help but smile back, being near him made me feel good. We sat in silence, waiting for Soturi to come back. Just a few minutes later Sotur returned, carrying a baby in her arms. A young woman with a tray with coffee and snacks was behind her.
Soturi sat next to Melchizedek and the little baby extended her little arms to him. I remembered seeing babies in the Burrow, in the rare occasions I went near the Nursery, but I had never seen a baby so close, she looked so fragile, it was so bizarre to see such a little thing behave like a being with a will of its own.
“This is my daughter Mistral.” Melchizedek introduced us as he tried to get the baby comfortable in his arms.
“Hello Mistral.” I said, and the baby looked at me when she heard her name and smiled, it was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. It was incredible and I knew that I should be feeling sad because I would never have someone like that, I would never be a mother, but all I felt was joy and tenderness. Right then I finally understood what was wrong. “Empathy,” I thought out loud. “You are using empathy against me, you are making me trust you, you are making me vulnerable.”
“You are giving me more credit that I deserve princess,” Melchizedek said as he let his child play with his finger, “is true that I’m an empath, and a very strong one, but I don’t have the kind of control your people have. Those around me are forced to share my feelings, but I can’t change that and I certainly cannot use my powers are as a weapon.”
“But your empathy is stopping me from attacking you, it makes me trust you.” Knowing didn’t change anything, I was still affected and that scared me, I didn’t know what they could do to me while I was incapable of defending myself.
“I don’t blame you for not trusting our intentions, I know you have had a difficult life, but I know that we are going to be friends, good friends.” The baby chose that moment to laugh and I was captivated by the sound. “I assure you, you have nothing to fear from us, and I know that even without my influence we can trust you to do the right thing. You are a fair and good person.
“You are asking too much.” I tried to clear my mind, to push away the feelings Melchizedek was imposing on me, but even without him I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to resist the baby, she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.
“I’m sorry, I know this has to be difficult for you.” He sounded sincere in his apology.
“I know that your power and visions are guiding you,” Soturi said, “but you can’t forget she is here for the same reason the other warriors were. She wants to enslave us and take us away from here.”
“Calm down my love,” Melchizedek said, “everything is going to be fine.”
“That’s easy for you to say, but I can’t help to worry,” Soturi’s voice made her sound fragile and younger. “I know that you trust what you see in your visions, but I would feel safer if she was locked up with the others.”
“But I can’t do that to her, it would be too cruel.” Melchizedek looked at me, but it was as if he was looking at something else, something behind me, in my past. “Like I said, she has a noble heart and will do the right thing.”
“I know that you trust your visions,” Soturi repeated, “but you’re putting our lives at risk.”
“There are a lot of factors to consider when you think about what makes a person, but at the end the most important one is the heart, and I know what lives in a person’s heart. I would not only put my own life in her hands, I would put my most precious treasure in her hands.” Melchizedek’s words carried conviction and strength. “She is just what Mistral needs, and I’m willing to trust her life to her.”
“You are not saying what I think you’re saying, are you?” Soturi was scared, and I had no idea what they were talking about.
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