At first I was frozen by surprise, but then I looked at the Predators and I felt furious, it was my moment, my opportunity, Vasuman had no right to interrupt my meeting.
“This meeting is not over yet,” I stood up and walked to the door. “Please, excuse me for a moment.” I asked my guests. I pushed Vasuman out of the room and closed the door after me. “What are you doing!?”
“I’ll ask you the same,” he was mad at me, “what the hell are you doing with those savages, alone!”
“I’m negotiating,” I said, “they want free transit through our sector and I think I will get a new ally in exchange.”
“You’re crazy if you think I will allow those animals to be in MY sector. They are enemies of the Empire, even talking to them could be considered treason.” He grabbed my arms and then pushed me to the wall. “First, you kill Boyar, and now you betray the Emperor by talking to his enemies. It’s as if you enjoy breaking the rules, tempting fate. The only thing you will accomplish with this is to get yourself killed and make Caracalla happy.”
“I know what I’m doing.” I used my mind to force Vasuman to release me and then I put a psychic wall around me to stop him from grabbing me again. “Now, let me do my job and I will explain everything to you later.” I knew Vasuman wasn’t going to let me alone, so I let my powers protecting the door so he couldn’t interrupt me again.
“I’m sorry for the interruption,” I said to the Predators once inside, “but don’t worry, it was just a misunderstanding, it’s already taken care of.”
“Are you sure is ok?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Now, let’s stop talking about this and let’s get to the real issue here.” Rex was silent for a few minutes, he kept watching the door, waiting for Vasuman to walk in again, but when nothing happened he started to talk.
“Our routes have been getting dangerous lately, we want to be able to cross your sector without problems. We won’t attack you if you don’t attack us.”
“And what are you willing to give us in exchange for your free transit in our sector?”
“The promise that we won’t attack anyone from your Clan.”
“Please Rex, you know that’s not enough.” By maintaining the protection on the door, I was unable to read their minds, but I already knew enough to know how difficult their situation was.
“That’s what we can offer you, we could just keep moving through your territory without your knowledge, attacking your convoys and stealing your goods, we could even find an alternative route.”
“You know that’s not possible, any alternative route would take you straight to your enemies, and getting into our territory and attacking us will lead you to the same fate as the Beasts. The conflict that killed your father left you in a bad position and without allies. Your only chance is to get into our territory and hide behind our troops,” I was simply exposing the facts, but they were getting restless. “Your territory is near mine, even though your Clan is nomad, you have a base, a place to hide your treasures and tend to your wounded, my sector gives you the fastest and easiest access to your home.” Neither Rex, nor his companions seemed happy by my words.
“Maybe you’re right, but you give yourself too much credit, the Beasts are not defeated yet, no one can warranty that they won’t attack you again and then you will be the vulnerable ones. We could help you to avoid that.”
“You and I know the truth about the Beasts and their Clan structure. By the time they find out what happened and gather enough tribes to attack our defenses will be ready to receive them.”
“You must realize that it will be so much better for us to be allies and not enemies,” Rex said, “we will be crossing your territory and neither of us can afford to be fighting among ourselves.”
“No general of the Empire will let you go through his territory without being part of the Empire,” Vasuman was right about that, to allow him would be treason. “The only way you can get what you want is if you swore loyalty to my Clan.”
“Never!” Yelled Rex’s brother as he jumped out of his seat. “We won’t obey the Emperor.” Rex just signaled his brother to take his seat again.
“The reason my father is dead is because we want to be independent, we don’t want to be under the control of anyone.”
“Well, that depends on what you consider under control. You would be required to give a tribute to the Emperor, but think of the benefits: free transit, not only through this sector, but all the territories of the Empire, protection from the Imperial Clan and its allies against the Rebels, and the opportunity to trade with many allied Clans for goods, you wouldn’t depend on the things you could steal, you would have access to everything.” Rex was hiding behind an air of indifference, but I could see his eyes sparkling at my words, he was considering my offer.
“We are not the Mercaders, we don’t trade.” He said dryly.
“Neither you are Carrions to feed from what others don’t want.”
“The tribute, what would it be?”
“Brother, you can’t be thinking about it…” the young man was interrupted by Rex, he didn’t even turn to look at him, just a gesture with his hand was enough to make him shut up.
“Is different in every case, it depends on what the Clan can do for us. In your case I would guess that the Emperor will ask for half your war booty. But maybe you can find another way to contribute to the Empire.”
“That’s too much, we wouldn’t have enough for us.” Rex said.
“Of course you would, you would have less risks and your earnings would be better for that. Of course, if you can find anything else to give us, then you wouldn’t need to give us so much as tribute.”
“Maybe we could…” Rex was thinking, considering his options. “We will think about it.” He finally said, then he stood up and his companions followed him.
“Before you go, there’s something I want to show you,” I said. I opened the door, expecting to face Vasuman again, but it was Modra waiting for me on the other side.
“General.” She greeted me with a shallow bow.
“Colonel Modra, walk with me, please.” Having her near would be useful. We walked in silence to the place where we were holding the Beasts. “This is all that remains from the group that attacked us,” I told Rex, “some have died because of their battle wounds, those who survived are being shipped as slaves to different sectors.” Rex was looking at the cages, looking for something… or someone. “This is what happens to the enemies of the Empire, death or slavery.”
“Is that a threat?” Rex asked as he looked at his former allies.
“I just want you to know the alternatives before you make a decision.”
“We shouldn’t go further, Felinae is close.” Modra warned. Despite her weakness, Felinae was still able to affect the men around her.
“Felinae is here?” Rex asked. He was trying to sound casual, but his voice betrayed him for a second, enough to confirm that he was interested in her.
“Yes, she is here.”
“Her powers don’t affect me, is alright if I get closer?” He didn’t wait for an answer, he started to walk, looking at the cages, searching for her.
“Rex?” I heard Felinae asking. “Can you get me out of here?”
Rex didn’t say anything, he just stared at Felinae. I noticed that his companions haven’t approached Felinae like him, I wondered if he was really immune to her or if he was under her influence, I had seen them together in Melchizedek’s vision, but I wasn’t sure the meaning of that.
“And this is our last stop,” I told Rex, “time for you to go.”
“What are you doing with her?” Felinae asked, and I saw how her face changed, the hope showed by Rex’s arrival morphed into rage and fear when she saw me. “Traitor!” She yelled when she realized that Rex was my guest. “Traitor! I will kill you, I’ll kill you both!” Felinae was getting angrier, trying to escape, I pushed her against the wall on the other side of the cell.
She had the air knocked out of her, she was on the floor trying to compose herself. I watched Rex, he had shivered when Felinae hit the wall, but was trying to feign indifference. I used my mind to take some rope and tied Felinae with it, binding her ankles and wrists, then I gagged her so I wouldn’t have to hear her threats. Opening her cage, I dragged her out, letting her fall at Rex’s feet.
“I will give her to you, as a sign of good will.” Rex stared at me, unable to hide his surprise. “If you decide to accept my offer and become an ally of the Empire she will be your welcome gift, if you decide to become my enemy, I will have her back when I destroy your Clan.”
Felinae was struggling against her bindings, she moved away when Rex bent over her, but he reached her easily and lifting her he put her over his shoulder and carried her away. I could hear his heart beating fast and wished I could touch him so I could feel the emotions running through him.
“Thank you for your gift general Kaiserin.” Rex left in a hurry, almost as if he wanted to get away before I could tell him that I changed my mind and wanted her back.
“What was that?” Modra asked me.
“I’m setting the bases for the future…” if Cerridwen had taught me something it was that vision were bound to become true, sooner of later, I was just helping by getting the two of them together, I felt like I had done my part. “We need to prepare, we will need to go to the Palace.”
“I think you should go to Vasuman, he’s been looking for you.” Modra said. But the last thing I wanted was to go to him.
Modra and I went to the office and I was informed that Vasuman has taken control of the sector’s business once again. I didn’t want a public fight, so I went to my room instead. I lay down on the bed and waited, I was half asleep, almost in a trance, but not going for astral projection. I had my eyes closed, but I was aware of everything in the room. I could feel and see everything in there, all that was mine.
I don’t know how long I was there, but it was late when the door opened, I didn’t need to open my eyes to know who it was, I just put my psychic wall in the doorway so he couldn’t walk in. I could feel him punching the wall, trying to tear it down, but all my focus was in keeping it whole. I didn’t move, it was almost as if I was unaware of what was happening. I knew he couldn’t be there all day, he had to stop eventually, and he did. A few minutes later I felt a mind looking for mine, it was captain Tankene.
‘Can I come in?’ he asked, and I opened my eyes to see him and his brother standing in the doorway with a pair of slaves that carried food and drinks.
I dropped the wall and both of them stepped in, the slaves set the food on the table and left.
“What are you doing here?” I asked them.
“After the Predators left you locked yourself here and we were worried something had happened.”
“I was just tired, nothing to worry about.” Both captains were restless, both were part of my permanent escort, but I knew they were there by Vasuman’s orders. “Anything else? Something you want to discuss with me?”
“General Vasuman asked us to tell you that he’s expecting you in his room tonight.” Tankene said.
“Thanks, but I won’t be able to go, I will stay here the rest of the day, and night.” The brothers looked at each other, worried, but didn’t say anything, they bowed and left the room, closing the door after them. I put the psychic wall up, just in case, and then decided to take an astral walk. I couldn’t find all of my contacts, it was too early, but it was enough to find out what was going on in the rest of the territories. It was late when I finally returned and after asking for supper I went to sleep.
I had a restless night, I woke up before dawn with a dry mouth. I went to the table and drank a glass of water. I was feeling awful, I felt a horrible oppression in my chest, and weird sensations crawling under my skin, then I felt cold, so much cold. I fell, my body inert, body and mind unresponsive, I was getting desperate, but then, it stopped. I stood up trying to figure out what had happened, and it was when I remembered the last time I had felt like that, during my death vision.
The second vision, it had to be. It had come earlier than I expected. Everything was getting better, I was finally getting somewhere, but the vision was a reminder that my time was running out. I took a shower and dressed, I went out and saw that it was still dark, I walked around while the sun raised. Once it was light I went to Vasuman’s room. He was awake when I entered the room, he just looked at me, but didn’t speak.
“Are you still mad at me?” I knew he was, but we needed to talk.
“I talked to the Colonels yesterday,” he said, “they told me what happened on the battlefield and everything you have done since. I don’t like you being a general, but I have to recognize that you have done a good job.” I wasn’t expecting him to admit something like that. “Still, I don’t like the game you’re playing with the Predators, nor the attention you’re going to get in this position. So I’m going to ask you to give your rank back and go back to being a Colonel.”
“And if I don’t want to?”
“I would prefer if you accept.” Vasuman looked tired, I guessed he didn’t sleep well.
“I won’t do it,” I said, “this is something I deserve and I want. It’s my destiny, I was born to rule, not to hide behind someone else.”
“I could force you to give your rank back.” He threatened.
“You could try, but you are not fully recovered and right now I’m stronger than you.” He heard me, but remained silent. He knew it was true, my psychic wall have stopped him twice.
“Then get out and enjoy it while you can,” he said, “but don’t expect me to help you when the Predators turn on you or when your father learns about this.”
I left the room at once. I didn’t understand why I was hurt by his words, it wasn’t like I needed him. Was it?
Vasuman chose a new Colonel to take my position, he did it without asking for my opinion. Two days later I received the Predators answer, they were willing to become our allies, but I needed to talk to my father for that. I had learned that he was outside the Palace, which was perfect, it was easier to go to him and talk to him about the Predators if he wasn’t at the Palace. I prepared for my trip, trying to keep Vasuman in the dark, but it was impossible for me to hide my plans for long.
“Can I come in?” Vasuman asked from the door of my room. It had been days since our last conversation and I knew he was there just because I was going away the next day.
“Yes.” I wasn’t sure what to expect from him.
“I know you are leaving tomorrow,” he closed the door and walked to my desk where I was still working, “I don’t want you to go, but I know I can’t stop you, I thought that at least we could spend the night together.”
“We could.” I wanted my fight with him to end, I didn’t want to go while we were fighting. “I don’t have a problem being with you. When I thought you were dying, I was scared, afraid I was going to lose you, that you wouldn’t be with me anymore. But while you were recovering and I had to take charge I realized how much I liked it and how good it felt to be in control. I was afraid to lose you, but now I’m afraid to lose myself.
“We don’t have to do anything you don’t want,” Vasuman bent over me and took my hands, “we can stay here if you want, just let me stay with you.”
“You are welcome to stay with me.” Truth was I had missed him, the novelty of being on my own had faded and now the room seemed too big for me.
I left the next day, I found Rex on the limits of the sector’s territory, he was traveling with his seconds in command, a small escort, the bear that he had with him on our first meeting and Felinae.
Rex looked happy, he was smiling, and I guessed the reason for his smile was Felinae. Without her uniform, she looked very different, younger and vulnerable. She was wearing a thick metal choker, just like the ones some slaves wore, the choker was attached to a chain, Rex had the end of the chain wrapped around his arm. Felinae’s hands were resting in her lap, wrapped in bandages. She looked at me and I expected to see her hate, but her eyes were empty. I shivered, my chest felt heavy, that was not what I was expecting, she wasn’t right, and I couldn’t help but remember that look, I had seen it a lot of times in a mirror. Rex had been enjoying his gift, and that was my intention when I gave her to him, but I was regretting my decision, maybe killing her would have been kinder, maybe I was wrong about the vision. I tried to stop thinking about her, I needed to concentrate.
During the travel Rex and I talked about the deal he was willing to accept, I was hoping Kamose was willing to hear me, my success depended a great deal on my father being able to listen to me and accepting my ideas.
We reached e sector where the Emperor was staying, the Predators stayed at the limits of the sector with some of my men. We reached the main settlement and asked to see the Emperor. After waiting a long time I was guided to the war room.
“I thought that one of the generals of sector 32 wanted to see me,” were the first words of my father, “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I was recently promoted.” I could see that he wasn’t happy with my answer.
“Only the Emperor can take a decision like that, and I would never choose you as a general. You have no reason to be here, stop pretending to be someone you are not and go back to your sector.” He stood up and walked towards the exit. “I think we need to go take care of really important things.” He said.
“With all due respect, I think you should at least listen to me.” I said. “I come to help you with two of your most important problems: The Beasts and the metal supply.” I could see Kamose’s reluctance when he turned to face me, but I had his attention.
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