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Chapter 54

The voices reached me from afar, I wasn’t sure what was happening.

‘Kaiserin, wake up Kaiserin.’ I heard the voice in my head.  Maddan?

I did my best to wake up as he asked and I found myself in the center of a chaotic scene.  I couldn’t make sense of what was going on, I was too tired and my chest was hurting bad.  I saw Maddan’s concern, he was over me, pressing my chest, I tried to move and noticed that both his hands and my clothes were covered in blood.

“What happened here?  Get away from her!” Vasuman’s voice echoed in the hallway, he reached me and kneel on my other side, opposite from Maddan.

“If I let go, she dies.” Maddan said.  “Someone attacked her and if I don’t press on her wound she is going to bleed out.”

“I thought that she was going to be safe in here.  I shouldn’t have let her go alone.”  His fury to Maddan disappeared, it was replaced with something else, his voice was weird, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

Darkness descended over me again.

I opened my eyes to find an unfamiliar face in a vaguely familiar place.

“Welcome back general,” the man said, “you scared us, you had a pretty nasty wound.”  He smiled in a way that I think was supposed to be comforting, but that only scared me more.  “You are very lucky, the knife would have pierced your heart if it wasn’t for your dextrocardia.

“Dextrocardia?” I had no idea what that meant.

“I mean your condition, Situs Inversus Totalis, your internal organs are in an inverted position, your heart is not on the left, but the right side of your body, that saved your life today.”

“No one ever told me about it.”  It was weird, it was something I thought I had heard before, but I couldn’t remember when or how.

“Maybe they assumed you knew, after all, it’s a condition that defines a true Maxima.”  He went over the papers in his hands.  “You will be fine, in a couple of hours you will be ready to leave, but I would prefer to keep you under observation for the night if that is ok with you.”

“I feel fine, I don’t need to stay.”  I needed to go out, find out what had happened.

“If that’s what you want, I will come back in a couple of hours to release you.”  He opened the door and I saw Kamose standing outside my room.

“How are you feeling?” He asked from the doorway.

“Fine, I’m fine.”

“Good.”  I couldn’t read his face, there was nothing in there, no emotions.  “Is good to see that you are a true Maxima, otherwise you would be dead right now.”  He said those words like it was a curse, and in a way it was.  He didn’t say another word, he just left.

A few minutes later Vasuman entered the room.

“How are you?” his voice was full of concern.

“I’m feeling alright, really, it wasn’t that bad, I just got distracted for a minute.”

“You were angry, you weren’t paying attention,” he accused, “if you were, they wouldn’t have had a chance of hurting you.”

“Yeah, it was a dumb mistake, but it won’t happen again.” I promised, but it was a promise I couldn’t keep.  The vision had left me at the mercy of my enemies, if it had lasted a little longer or my enemies had used a different weapon… But the worst part was that my vision was at the Palace, what if the seers had felt it?  Maybe they were already looking for me.

“I hope so.” Vasuman took my hand in his.  “I was so afraid I would lose you.”

“How did they get in the Palace?” that was my biggest concern.  “They didn’t look like part of the Clan.”

“No,” he confirmed, “one of them was from the Bronze Clan, another from the Toreador Clan, we haven’t been able to identify the third one.”

“Third one?” I just remembered two of them.

“Yeah, there were three men trapped in your spikes, one of them had the weapon they used to hurt you, the others were close to him.”

“I’m glad I used a wide attack, otherwise I would have been at the mercy or the third one.”

“Maybe, maybe not.  The noise of your fight alerted the guards, they reached you in a matter of seconds.”

“I’m sure that Caracalla as the one to convince them to attack me.  It’s not impossible to think that he can convince a few Palace soldiers to come after me as well.”

“It’s possible,” Vasuman kissed my hand before letting it go, “but is not something you had to worry about right now, we have time to figure out what to do. Right now you have to rest.”

As promised the doctor returned a couple of hours later and let me go after taking the IV out and giving me some care instructions. Vasuman walked me to my room and after a receiving Lamia, Inionri, Agis, Geb and Kozlak for a brief visit, I finally went to sleep.

Next morning Vasuman and I had a light breakfast in my room, by noon I felt strong enough to leave the room and convinced Vasuman that it was safe for me to go to the banquet.

I had to dress with with baggy clothes to avoid hurting my wound.  My bandage was visible and I spent a lot of time trying to fix my clothes to cover it, unsuccessfully.

“Don’t take it as a sign of weakness,” Vasuman told me when he saw me in front of the mirror, “is a sign of your victory.”  His words surprised me, but he was right, I was still alive, but my attackers were dead.

“Thanks.”  I was really grateful for his words, they gave me the confidence to face the day.

It was a short walk from the room to the hall where the banquet was taking place.  The guards opened the doors for us and I could see that the place was almost full.  Generals, heirs and representatives from the Allied Clans were already there.  Close to the entrance were Curare and Rex, near them, Dendro and Ivy were talking to another couple from a Clan I couldn’t identify.  I went into the room and when Curare saw me she walked towards me.

“Kaiserin, dear.”  Her greetings were as warm as a Clan leader could give.  “I heard rumors about an attack, I didn’t know where you were or I would have gone to help with your treatment.”  Curare’s approach had gotten the attention of people around us, her words even more.  Curare was a woman with great knowledge of the human body, she was able to save or destroy the body, she was feared as a great assassin, but also praised for her healing hands.

“It would have been my honor, but it was just a scratch, nothing to worry about.”  Dendro and Rex had also approached us.  “I just needed to rest, the attack was a surprise and I went all out to defend myself.”

“We went through the hallway where you were attacked,” Rex said, “and I’m sure it wasn’t easy to create that much spikes.”

“It was easy, but exhausting,” I explained, “defense and attack at the same time is hard on the mind.”

“I’m sure it is, but once again you showed your strength, Sultana’s daughter.  I haven’t forgotten what you did for my Clan in the battle against the New World Clan, you also went far beyond what others were expecting of you on that occasion.”

“You should have seen her against the Beasts,” Vasuman added, “not even Sultana herself could have done a better job.”  Vasuman’s words surprised me once again, but I felt good with his praise.

“Then it’s not strange that she was able to defend herself that way, it was an excellent piece of work, a defense like that.”  I didn’t recognize the person talking, but from her clothes and the fact that Padres was with her I supposed she was from the Toreador Clan.  “I can’t believe that my men were involved in the attack, but I assure you they weren’t acting with my Clan’s knowledge.”

“You need to take control of your men Bravia,” Vasuman said before she could add anything else, “to attack an heiress of your hosting Clan is a grave offense.”  The woman that Vasuman called Bravia said nothing, but her smile turned old and her eyes shone with a warning.

The group around me had grown since my arrival, apparently news of my attack had reached the Allied Clans, and they were curious to see the girl that had filled the hallway with spears.  I saw Kamose approaching us, followed by Bunefer, a girl I didn’t know, Trajan and a bitter Caracalla.

“Kaiserin, what are you doing here?” Kamose asked.

“I have a right to be here as a general of the Empire.”  I said, feeling defensive.

“You were just attacked, you should be resting.”  I didn’t know if he was truly concerned about my well being or just searching for an excuse to send me away.

“This is nothing, don’t you remember my time as a soldier?  I had to do harder things than assist to a friendly gathering with worse injuries than a cut.”  Kamose didn’t even flinch, but he knew what I was referring to, Vasuman was fidgeting, uncomfortable with my words.  Of the rest of the people there, the only one who knew what I was talking about was Curare, she had taken care of my injuries after the battle with the New World Clan and she had seen the signs of torture.

“As you wish,” Kamose accepted.  “I just expect you to control yourself, I don’t want another scene like yesterday.”  I felt my face heating by his words, I felt humiliated, especially seeing Caracalla’s grin.

“I’m sorry about my behavior yesterday and I assure you it won’t happen again.”

“Also, stay away from my sons, I don’t want to repeat your last visit, either.”  He added in a whisper.

“Don’t worry Emperor, I left my ideas of revenge behind me.  It’s not me who you should be warning”  I didn’t look at Caracalla, but I hoped he understood my meaning.

“You can’t change that much in such a short time,” Caracalla said, “you are still the same crazy girl obsessed with revenge.”

“You are mistaken Caracalla,” I let a lazy smile fill my lips, “it’s not me who is obsessed.”  His smile disappeared.  “I don’t have hard feeling for you, in fact, I’m grateful,” it was just a flash, but I saw surprise in the faces around me, “I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for you,” I explained. “After my mother’s death, I would probably have been lost in anonymity, I just wanted to be a captain, I was happy following orders and doing what I was told, I had no further aspirations. But thanks to you my priorities changed, you showed me how painful it can be to be under someone else’s control, you made me want to be on the top.  Besides, you have provided me with the best training I could wish for, because when your life is on the line you discover everything you are capable of, I have grown and improved more than I thought I was capable off while fighting for my life.”  Caracalla’s face was getting distorted, his mental attack was vicious and strong, but I focused on repealing it, on not showing how it was affecting me.  It was painful, but not as painful as when I had to fight for my memories.  “My power, my strength, my position, none of that would be possible without you.”  Caracalla threw himself at me before I even finished my speech. His fist hit my psychic wall, just a few inches away from my face.

“Caracalla!” Kamose admonished.  “This is not the time nor the place,”  turning to me he added, “stop provoking him.”  As always, it was my fault, not his.

“I’m sorry Emperor, it wasn’t my intention, I was just trying to be grateful.”  I knew my words weren’t fooling Kamose, but it didn’t matter, it had been perfect.  For once, it was Caracalla who had broken the rules, he had attacked a superior, and worse, one that was still injured in what everyone knew was an attack orchestrated by him.  The whispers and quiet laughs on the room were because of the Emperor’s son and his outburst.

“I’m warning you Kaiserin, behave yourself.”  With that Kamose grabbed Caracalla by the arm and walked to the other side of the room.  I knew that they were talking, but I couldn’t hear their psychic conversation.

“Kaiserin, can you join us for a moment?”  Vajira asked.  “We have a gathering of Tzar’s descendants and you should be there.”

“Of course,” I agreed, “if you excuse me, I have to go.” I said to the people I had been talking to before Kamose’s arrival.

“Don’t disappear, we still have a lot to talk about,”  Dendro asked.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Vajira asked Vasuman when he followed us, “this is just for people with royal blood.”

“I go wherever Kaiserin goes.”

“Please Vasuman, just give me a minute.”  Not looking happy, Vasuman let me go.

Most of Tzar’s children were there, at least those still alive.  Once we were all together, in a corner far from the other groups of people Adze turned to me.

“This is not what we agreed,” she as angry, but her voice was controlled, she didn’t want people to overhear our conversation.  “You were supposed to kill Caracalla.”

“No,” I whispered back, “I told you I wanted to destroy him, and that’s what I intend to do.”  Adze didn’t look convinced.  “His obsession will be his destruction, he’s losing control, he will make a mistake that will cause even Kamose to turn his back on him.  He will destroy himself, all I have to do is wait.”

“You have grown since we last talked,” Jomei said, “I didn’t expect it.”

“I’m sorry, I know this wasn’t in your plans.”  No, they wanted a crazy and easy to manipulate Kaiserin.  “But don’t worry for me, I will stay out of your way as long as you do the same for me.”

“You have had a couple of lucky breaks and a couple of good calls, that doesn’t make you one of us,” Isis warned.  “We’re still stronger and more experienced than you.”

“Of course aunt, I know that.”  I needed them to keep underestimating me.  “Now, if you said everything you wanted to say I need to go look for my cousins.”

“Inionri and the others are waiting for you.”  Khreb told me.  “You are right, go with them, they are more appropriate company for you.”  Appropriate, what he meant was they are like you, children with a bright future, but currently meaningless.  I let the veiled insult go.

“Thanks uncle, I’ll see you later.”

I didn’t take long to find the group where my cousins and allies were.  Kozlak, Geb, Agis, Inionri and Lamia were still concerned about my health, but were happy to see me.  They were my group, my supporters.  Caracalla had his lackeys, I had my family, my friends.

For a while I was able to forget about the court intrigues and my work responsibilities.  I knew that Caracalla’s intrigues were only going to get worse, and I also needed to be careful about my uncles and aunts, they were already seeing me as competition.  But at that moment I was safe, I was able to be free with my friends.  They had also grown since our last meeting, they were stronger, smarter, better prepared.  I had kept contact with most of them by astral projection, but not all of them had that ability.  I enjoyed the opportunity to be with them, and for a little while I was able to relax, I could be free with them.

I heard a commotion and noticed that Bunefer as discussing with a man, one that made me shiver.

“Who is he?” I asked.  The man wasn’t tall, neither he looked strong, he was rather average and common looking, he was part of the Clan, but instead of uniform he was wearing a brown tunic.  But despite his harmless look he made me afraid.

“That’s Enoch from the Vlad Family, leader of the Seers,”  Lamia told me.

“He’s the leader of the Seers? What is he doing here?”  That explained the fear, it was feeling, maybe a premonition, that he was dangerous to me.  If he found out about my new power he could force me to go with him and I would lose my future.

“It is said that he is after Bunefer’s daughter, Feldem.  He says that she is a seer and that he’s going to take her as soon as her powers manifest,” she explained, “but Bunefer doesn’t want to let her go, she is trying to get Caracalla interested in her.”

“Her powers haven’t manifested and he’s already looking for her?”  Was it true then that they haven’t noticed my own powers?  Was I safe?

“I don’t know how this thing work,” Inionri said, “but as I understand a seer can tell when another seer is going to manifest.”

Our conversation focused on the seers and the lives they had, how controlled and lonely it was, for their own protection.  At least my episode the day before explained why they had to be protected, they were too valuable and the visions made us vulnerable.  Still, the idea of being one of them terrified me.  I needed to escape their notice at least until I could get rid of Caracalla for good.

Several slaves with trays of food started to walk among us.  One of them approached us and offered us food.  I noticed my favorite foods on the tray, my mouth was watering just by seeing the food.  I took one of the bites and when I was about to put it my mouth Dendro appeared and grabbed my wrist, putting the bite of food in his own mouth.

“Hey, that was mine.” I said, surprised by his actions.

“No, it’s mine now,” he said, “besides, I don’t think you can enjoy it like me, the poisonous flavor is not something you’re used to.”

“Poison?” Geb asked, he was about to eat one of the foods from the tray.

“Yes, I would suggest not to eat anything from this tray.” Dendro warned.

The slave holding the tray was getting nervous, not that he didn’t have reason to be, everyone around us was getting agitated and he was an easy target.

“How did you know it was poisoned?” Agis asked Dendro.

“I suspected it.  You know my Clan is not the only one that likes to play with poisons, were just the best at it,” he said proudly.  “This slave was with the people from the Death Clan before coming here, Caracalla was there and told him to come here.  I suspected they were planning something.”

“I’m sorry.” The slave said, he was shaking.

“Can you identify the poison and the Clan that uses it?” I asked Dendro.  This could be a great opportunity.

“By tasting them, I can only know if is poisonous or not.  To know who made it, I would need to analyze it in the lab.”

“Take your tray and go offer it to Curare, then take the tray to the Emperor’s group.”  I ordered the slave.

“But…”  the slave was terrified.

“Do it!” I ordered, putting all the authority I could behind my voice.

“What are you trying to do?” asked Inionri.

“You’ll see.”

We saw the slave across the room, offering food to Curare, she took a bite in her hand but didn’t eat it immediately.  The slave wasn’t moving so I used my mind to push him towards Kamose’s group.  The slave went and offered the food to them, Kamose ignored it, but Bunefer took a bite.  Before she could taste it Curare approached her and told her not to eat it.  I saw Caracalla walking towards them in a hurry.

“This looks interesting.” Lamia said.

The slave kneel in front of Kamose, letting the tray drop, the noise got everyone’s attention.  A weird silence fell over the gathering, Kamose’s eyes were surveying the place.  I felt his eyes lingering over me and I wondered if he could find a way to blame it on me, but he continued his search until his eyes fell on the Death Clan, they were already moving towards the door.

“Nothing to worry about,” Kamose’s voice echoed in the place, “nothing but a clumsy slave.”

Little by little the people got back to their talks and the noise of conversations grew again.

“Warning my mother so she could avoid an accident and then forcing Kamose to investigate by himself, is certainly more effective than accusing Caracalla.” Dendro said.

“He wouldn’t have believed either of us,” I said, “but unless Caracalla was able to put some impressive locks on that poor slave’s mind, Kamose is going to find everything he needs to see it was Caracalla’s doing. I know he wouldn’t care if he killed me, but endangering the other heirs is unforgivable.”

“Cool!” Lamia said as she hugged me.

“What did you do this time?” Vasuman asked, apparently he had decided he had given me enough alone time.

“This time? I did nothing.” I smiled.  “That’s the best part.”  I watched as Kamose guided Caracalla outside the room, the Death Clan had already left, but I was sure that they were already under arrest.

How are you going to escape this time Caracalla? I wondered before turning my attention back to my friends and their conversation.

 

Copyright © 2014 | Kaiserin Novel

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