It was complete chaos around me. The death of the leader of the Beasts had taken the Imperialists warriors out of their haze and into battle again, but I was the focus of the Beasts, I was the one they wanted dead. I was weirdly calm, the sound were muffled and the scene before me looked far away, I felt like time was stopping or everyone was moving in slow motion.
I didn’t want to leave Vasuman, so I took him in my arms. The enemy was almost on top of us. I focused on the fire and feed its energy to increase the heat, I kept going until I felt like my skin was going to get blisters, then I use the air around me to form a whirlwind. Once the whirlwind was strong enough, I pushed it to my enemies. Then, I created stone stakes all around us and then I collapsed some of the floor to create an uneven terrain that would be hard to move in. My enemies tried to reach us, but the terrain was making their advance hard, and my fire whirlwind was taking them out. Everything around me was blood, death and destruction, but it wasn’t enough, I needed more.
The smell of burnt flesh and smoke was getting to me, but I wasn’t the only one affected, the body in my arms started to cough softly and tremble. I felt hopeful, I checked on Vasuman to confirm my suspicion, his pulse was weak, but it was there. I checked his wounds and noticed they were already closing, he had used his own powers to cauterize the wounds and stop the blood loss. But I knew that he was still in danger, I wasn’t sure he would be able to survive for long.
I let my mind go and touch familiar minds, I shouted to all the minds I could one warning ‘cover yourselves’. Once I was sure the message had been delivered I let the whirlwind explode and take down the Beasts that were still trying to get to me.
Once the way was clear, I took Vasuman and with the help of my mind powers I went looking for someone who could help us. A major approached me and helped me carry Vasuman. More and more people realized that he was still alive and medics and healers came looking for us. They took Vasuman, after reassuring me that they would take care of him and do everything in their power to save him. I let him go, scared of losing him, but trusting they were better prepared to help him. I felt useless, powerless. There were people arriving, Modra and Arkta were close, I could see their lips moving, but I wasn’t hearing the words.
“Are you alright?” Modra asked, and I knew it wasn’t the first time she had asked that to me.
“I will be fine,” I said, noticing for the first time the headache, the price I had to pay for abusing my powers, “I think I will be,” I amended in a whisper.
“What are your orders?” she asked. “Should we take prisoners or kill all the Beasts?”
“Where is Boyar?” without Vasuman, he was the next in command.
“He was captured by the enemy,” Arkta said, “ambushed by warriors from the Predators Clan, the Beasts took advantage of the rescue party’s absence to attack us. We intercepted the Beasts before they reached the main camp, but they were prepared for us and things got complicated.”
“We will explain everything later, but right now we need to know what to do.” Modra interrupted.
I wasn’t sure why they were asking me, all I wanted to do was to go to Vasuman and make sure he was alright, besides, the headache was getting worse and it was making me dizzy. I lifted my hand, thinking of rubbing my forehead so I could try to diminish the pain, but I noticed something in my hand, a piece of metal almost melted in my hand, the general’s insignia. I looked to the colonels again and I noticed they attitude, they were respectful and deferential, I took another look at the insignia in my hand and I understood.
Kill them. That’s what I wanted to say, but before I could speak the words a bad feeling invaded me. Melchizedek had told me to trust my instincts and follow my hunches, so I took a moment to think about it.
“Identify the leaders and capture them, kill everyone else.” It was a better choice and I felt at ease once I spoke.
“It will be done as you say.” Arkta bowed at me and left to relay the orders.
“We should get back,” Modra was looking at me with concern, “you need medical attention.”
“I just need to rest for a moment,” I said, but I let her guide me to a vehicle that had survived the battle.
I don’t know when I fell asleep, but when I woke up I was in the infirmary and a group of people was working on me, at least one of them was a healer, using his powers on me.
“How is Vasuman?” I asked as soon as my voice returned.
“The general is in critical condition, but stable,” said someone by my side, I turned to find Zounkla, he was looking bad, but his injuries seemed superficial. “You seem to be out of danger, but your brain is swollen, we were afraid you were going to have a psychic headache and die.
“I’m a Maxima, we are stronger than we look.” I said.
“There are a lot of things that require your attention, so as soon as you feel better we’re going to need you in the war room.”
“I’m fine now,” I said as I tried to get out of bed. I lost my balance and Zounkla had to stop me from falling.
“No, you’re not,” he said, “what you did back there… I wasn’t there, but I saw what you did, the destruction, one person shouldn’t be able to do that, yet you did… but don’t pretend that you’re ok, something like that requires a lot of energy.”
“But I’m here, I’m fine.” But any try to use my mind made my head feel like it was about to explode, if I wanted to survive the day I needed to avoid the use of my powers. That made me feel vulnerable, scared, but I needed to look secure and in control, even if I wanted to scream. Without my powers I felt like a child, I felt like Sklave.
Zounkla send for food and a clean uniform for me and stayed by my side until I was ready to leave. It had been almost two days since my return to the sector, while I was unconscious the colonels had worked in keeping the sector under control. The fact that we had defeated our biggest threat, the Beasts, made their work easier, but there was a lot to do and a lot to fix.
“What had happened since I left?” I asked while I ate.
“The Predators happened,” Zounkla said, “they were already a problem, they attacked travelers and stole their goods, but they used to attack travelers, not people in their own sector like now. I guess they have some kind of deal with the Beasts, because somehow our supplies were getting to the Beasts, I think they were stealing for them.”
“What about Boyar?” I had a vague memory of him being captured.
“A few days after you left, we were expecting a weapons supply and Boyar decided to go to protect it. He went with over two hundred warriors, but they were ambushed and just a few survived. Those who managed to escape told us that Boyar had been captured by the Predators. As soon as Vasuman heard about it he send several search parties, once they found the place they were holding him he sent another group to rescue him. Problem is, the Beasts knew our troops were not here, and they attacked us. You know the control points are far one from the other, they managed to destroy two of them before we found out what they were doing, Vasuman collected all the available warriors and went to face the Beasts, determined to destroy them. But we underestimated their numbers, they were more than we were expecting based on their previous attacks.”
“And then I arrived and joined the battle.”
“Where were you?”
“I was in charge of the main camp, I stayed behind with a smaller group in case a group of Beast or Predators tried to attack,” Zounkla explained.
“Did they try?”
“Yes, but it was a small group and we could stop them without problems.”
“I want to see Vasuman.” I surprised myself with my request.
“I’m not sure if he’s allowed to receive visitors,” there was something off in Zounkla.
“I have to ask at least,” I got off my bed and went looking for Vasuman. The infirmary was small and it was easy to find him.
He was in the biggest room in the place, he was connected to a bunch of machines and there were a lot of people inside with him. Vasuman was extremely pale, he had an IV and an oxygen mask, also some cables connected to his head and chest. In the middle of all those things he looked small, vulnerable. The chief doctor saw me and went to talk to me, he guided me to the corner of the room where we wouldn’t get in the way of others.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said, “you’re not fully recovered yet, and the general is can’t receive visitors yet.”
“How bad is he?” I asked in a whisper.
“His chances of survival are high,” the doctor said, “his internal organs are damaged, but his mutation gives him a high resistance, unfortunately his condition also prevents us from giving him blood, and after his blood loss this is a problem… I trust he will recover, I just don’t know how long his recovery will take.”
I was just a couple of minutes in the room with Vasuman, watching him like that wasn’t pleasant, I always thought of him as invincible, but now he was as defenseless as a baby.
“After being with Vasuman I walked with Zounkla to the prison where the Beast were being held. Their animal aspect was only enhanced by them being in cages.
“We’re sorry, we haven’t been able to make them talk,” he apologized, “they are very resilient.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the captain in charge of the prisoners said, “at the end everyone talks, is just a matter of finding the right method to break the person.” He grinned and I could tell he liked his job.
I walked among the cages, the captured soldiers were many and some cages contained four or even five of them. But there was a cage that caught my attention, it was different than the rest, it was dark, and instead of many soldiers I could only see a pair of eyes shining from the dark. I was curious, so I walked closer, I was going to ask what was different, why there was only a person there, when I realized I was alone, the others had stopped moving.
I heard a noise and moved back by instinct, the person in the cage had launched herself at me and was trying to claw me through the bars.
“You!” I recognized the woman, she was the daughter of the leader of the Beasts, the man I had killed. “You!” she accused again and tried to escape, to get to me.
Now that my life wasn’t being threatened, I took my time to see the girl. She was younger than me, maybe by a couple of years. Her aspect was animalistic, like that of all the Beasts, her messy hair looked like a mane and her look reminded me of a big cat. Her lips, thrown back by her snarl showed pointy teeth. Her nails were black, but were not painted, they reminded me of claws, hard and lethal, I knew those claws could rip me apart if I stepped closer. But something was bothering me, her face was one I knew, but not because of our brief encounter in battle, her face was one I saw in Melchizedek’s vision. Somehow she was important.
“For what we have been able to discern from young Felinae, she is capable of producing pheromones capable of seducing males and bend them to her will,” Joshes said behind me. I haven’t seen her in a while, I was careful to avoid her at all cost, too many bad memories of her. “She was about to escape in a couple of occasions, that’s why we only allow strong willed women be near her. I’ve been in charge of her, I’m still trying to see if her power is better than mine.”
“Leave her alone,” there was something about her, I needed to collect my thoughts and remember what I had shared with Melchizedek and try to make sense of her, but I needed her safe in the meanwhile. “I will handle her interrogatory myself, just make sure she doesn’t escape.”
“If that’s what you want, general, that’s what I will do.” I didn’t dare to look at Joshes, I was feeling weak already and I couldn’t chance to fall to her powers.
Once I was satisfied that everything was under control I asked Zounkla to take me back to the offices, Arkta and Modra were already waiting for us, ready to discuss the problems we still had.
“General.” Arka greeted me with a shallow bow.
“General.” Repeated Modra by her side.
It was weird, but oddly satisfying. I haven’t asked for it, haven’t even dreamed about it, but when they needed a leader, they had chosen me.
“What’s the situation?” I asked while I sat at the head of the table, the place usually taken by Vasuman and Boyar. It was weird, I felt like I was taking something that wasn’t mine, I felt like a fraud, but it was what the people there wanted, they had chosen me.
“We had news from the Predators,” Modra said, “after hearing we defeated their allies, they are willing to negotiate with us. They are offering us the return of Boyar in exchange of a few concessions.” Modra gave me a piece of paper with a list of demands. I only had to see the first two to see that the demands were absurd.
“It’s obvious that we can’t accept this,” I said, “they are giving us impossible to meet demands to have more room for negotiation. They think that if they ask too much we will be more willing to settle for their real demands.”
“That or they are really dumb,” Arkta said. “My spies confirmed that their leader is young and inexperienced, he took control of the Clan a few months ago after his father’s death, and since then he has taken unnecessary risks and made stupid mistakes. People from his own Clan think that he is unprepared for his position and there’s even rumors about people who want to take him down.”
“Maybe if we wait the next leader will be more reasonable.” Modra said.
“But we can’t wait, Boyar my not survive that long.” Zounkla seemed concerned about the general.
“Well, at least if they kill Boyar we wouldn’t be losing something important.” I had no love for Boyar, but he was an Imperial general and letting a group like the Predators kill him would give a bad example. “And yet, we can’t let them win. I think we’ll have to program a meeting on neutral ground to speak to them. I will handle the talk myself.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Zounkla protested, “Vasuman would never allow something like that. Our troops were decimated, if this is a trap we won’t be able to fight back.”
“Vasuman is not here, so his opinion doesn’t count, what he would or wouldn’t approve is not my concern,” I said. “What we need to do is find a place where we can approach them safely, I have a couple of ideas,” I took a blank sheet and started writing. “We won’t rush into this, we need time, a week should work,” the colonels were looking at me skeptically, but none of them voiced their concerns. Good, I trusted my instincts, and so should they. I finished writing and gave the paper to Arkta.
“Are you sure about this?” she asked.
“Of course I am, you just make sure it reaches them.” I took another paper and started writing again, then I gave it to Modra. “This is the people I need to be ready to escort me to the meeting with the Predators, make sure all of them are in top condition.”
There was another issue, we were one colonel short, but it was an issue I didn’t want to address. If I named a new colonel and Vasuman decided that I couldn’t be a general, what would happen to me? It was something I didn’t want to think about.
After discussing about the day to day necessities they left to take care of their duties. I walked back to the building where the high officers suites were. I didn’t want to go back to Vasuman’s room, it wasn’t mine and I needed a place for myself. Boyar’s room was close to Vasuman’s, so I asked them to take Boyar’s stuff out of it and take it to an empty room, the room that should have been mine as colonel but Vasuman refused to give me.
As soon as I made my request for a new room a squad took guard outside of the room. Once the moving was done, I stepped inside the room. It wasn’t as big as Vasuman’s, and once it was freed from Boyar’s stuff it looked cold and impersonal, just a table, a couple of chairs, a bed and a desk. New uniforms for me were hanging in the closet in the corner.
I asked for my supper to be delivered to my room and then I went to bed. I had learnt that astral projection didn’t work the same as my other powers, even if I used it, it wouldn’t affect my psychic headache, so I stepped out of my body and spent the night searching for a good meeting point where I could face the Predators.
The next days allowed me to establish a routine, I had breakfast, went to check on Vasuman, once he was stable enough, he had been taken back to his room, a constant stream of healers were there to look after him. After Vasuman I visited Felinae, the young heiress from the Beasts Clan. I had decided not to kill her, I tried to talk to her, but it was pointless, her hate towards me and my Clan was too great, lucky for me, her anger made her mind easy to read, and once the headache disappeared I was able to read her mind and found some interesting facts. After that I usually ate with Zounkla, sometimes with Arkta and Modra, and we used the afternoon to talk about the necessities of the sector.
By the time we could establish a date for our meeting with the Predators I was feeling excited and confident in my success, despite the dangers of the meeting. In our way to meet them I was prepared, I asked my people to stop a couple of miles from the meeting point and did an astral survey of the place, to make sure that there were no traps. They had their own people on the astral plane and I wasn’t able to approach them, but I saw enough to be sure that we were safe. Once I was back in my body we finally went to them.
There were two trucks waiting at the meeting place, in the shadow cast by the vehicles a table had been settled with wine and finger food, but there was just one chair, and a Predator was already sitting there. I guessed the one sitting was the leader of the Predators, a brown bear was resting at his feet, and a glass of wine in his hands. He was watching us as we approached, with curiosity, but without concern, behind him five bodyguards stood, we had agreed to bring just ten men each, so I supposed the other five were with Boyar. We stopped the vehicle a few yards from them and walked the rest of the distance. Zounkla and Modra were flanking me while the rest of my guards fanned around us. A mile and a half behind us, another 30 of my men were waiting in case something happened, I expected the Predators to have taken similar precautions, but right now it was ten of us against ten of them.
“Greetings,” said the leader of the Predators. He wasn’t what I expected, he looked carefree and bored, with a touch of arrogance. His hair was dark brown, almost black, with a faint stubble, that along with his comfortable clothes should make him look unkempt, but didn’t. I wondered if his lack of protection was caused by his arrogance or a mutant power that protected him. He had a feral look, just like the one I usually associated with the Beasts, his wide, muscular body, made him look like the bear at his feet. “I would offer you a seat, but as you see we didn’t brought enough chairs.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, and then, using my mind, molded three comfortable seats with the materials around us, I put them on the other side of the table, facing the predator, the chair in the middle had a higher backrest and armrests, the other two were simple. I took the chair in the middle and Modra and Zounkla took sat at my sides.
“I’m sorry for general Vasuman’s death,” he said as if discussing the weather, “but don’t worry, for the right price I can give you your other general back.” At that moment the rest of his guards appeared, dragging Boyar with them. He was in bad shape, he was thin and bruised. They made him kneel at the side of the table and one of the guards stood behind him, a gun pointing to the back of his head. “I’m sure we can reach an agreement that could benefit both of us, you give what I want, I give you your general.”
“And what makes you think that we want him back?” I said, using the same bored tone of voice he was using.
“You need a leader,” he said, “every sector needs a General. If you don’t agree to my demands, then you won’t have one, and then, what would you do? It can be weeks before you get a new one assigned and in the mean time you will be at the mercy of your enemies.”
“You think we will agree to your crazy demands just to get the old man back?” I leaned on the table, giving the impression I wanted to be closer to him, then I whispered to him, as if we were sharing a secret, but using a voice everyone could hear. “You couldn’t be more mistaken.” I moved back, with my back resting against the chair, I extended my arm with my fist closed, then I extended my index finger and my thumb, mimicking a gun and aiming at Boyar, then I moved as if I was firing a gun, at the same time I used my powers to force the guard to fire the gun he was pointing at Boyar.
When the guard felt my powers he tried to move the gun, but he wasn’t fast enough and the bullet hit Boyar, who fell limp to the floor. The bear roared and moved away from the noise. The leader of the Predators dropped his mask and for the first time he let his emotions show in his face, surprise and disbelief. He watched the scene and I saw incredulity in his eyes.
If Modra or Zounkla were surprised by my actions they didn’t show it.
“Not only Vasuman survived,” I explained, “but I’m now a general.” I unfolded the lapel of my jacket to show the hidden insignia. “Your information was wrong and now you have nothing left to negotiate. The question now is, what are you going to do now?”
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