Convincing Vasuman that I needed to go to the battle against Kamose’s orders was far easier than I expected. It took us just a day to pick the warriors that were going with us and prepare everything for our travel. The next day we were on our way to the place where every year the Beast’s tribes reunited to discuss Clan businesses.
The Emperor’s plan was really simple, wait until the tribes were in place and attack, using different groups of warriors coming at them from different points, drawing a circle around them so not one Beast would be able to escape. But I knew something was going to happen. I wasn’t sure if the information was faulty or the calculations were wrong, but we were going to underestimate them and during battle one of their tribes was going to be close enough to kill the Emperor. Despite everything that had happened between my father and me, I just couldn’t sit back and do nothing.
Our squad was getting closer to the battle and I felt a déjà vu, the scene before us was scarily close to the battle where Vasuman almost died. The Beast’s gathering point was inside a mountain range, the terrain was irregular, with valleys and peaks that made it difficult for us to fight. The battle noises reached us, we saw the smoke columns flying to the sky from different points, marking different places where the battle was going strong. As we got closer a group of warriors from the Empire cut our approach.
“Identify yourselves.” A young soldier ordered.
“We are from sector 32,” I said, “we have important information for the Emperor.”
“You are not supposed to be here,” said and older warrior in front of us. “Your sector need to stay out of this. Once the battle is over we will inform the Emperor of your visit, he will decide if he wants to talk to you or not.”
“There’s no time for that,” I tried to stay calm, “they need the information we have to win this battle.”
“Everything is under control, I don’t think the Emperor needs help from a youngster like you.”
“You need to show more respect to your superiors,” Echrad said, walking towards us. “Don’t you see she is a general?” I thanked the gods for my good luck, it was one of my allies and not one of Caracalla’s who was in charge of this group.
“Echrad, is so nice to see you.” I haven’t been able to see her in a long time, but our astral walks gave us the opportunity to stay in contact. “I need to see the Emperor.”
“Of course, I won’t ask you why the rush, I know you have your reasons, I just hope they’re good reasons or I will be in trouble,” she said as she signaled her people to let us pass.
“Thanks Echrad, I promise that once this is done, I will look for you, we need to talk.” Once Echrad’s people told us where to find the Emperor, we didn’t waste more time and went looking for him.
It just took us a few minutes to find the place where the control post was supposed to be, but all we found was a destroyed camp. The burnt out structure and small fires still burning made me think of an explosion. A few bodies were scattered around the camp, but Kamose’s body wasn’t one of them. In fact, most of the bodies were from the enemy, not our Clan.
“What do you think happened here?” Vasuman asked.
“I suppose the Beasts got past their defenses and got here. We need to find Kamose, they must have moved to another camp.” The sun was still over us, it was too soon according to my vision, we still had time to find him.
We left the vehicles behind us and moved on foot, with Vasuman and me in the front, the rest of our people fanning around us in a protective stance. The battle was going strong in several fronts. We could hear the battle noises reaching us from different directions. The mountains hid the actual images, so we could only guess at what was going on. I hoped we were winning. We found a few Beasts and killed them. Not one of them was supposed to leave the battle alive, every single one was to be executed.
We were running out of time, I could see it in the sky, it was full of smoke, but I could still see the sun shining through the smoke. Finally, we met a group of Imperialists that told us where the Emperor’s camp was, we arrived just to find that they were already under attack. The Beasts were falling like bugs to the combined power of Kamose, Bunefer, Khreb, Isis and their soldiers, but just like bugs more were coming out to replace those dead. The Emperor and his generals looked tired, and I wasn’t sure how much longer they would be able to hold on.
We were at the fringe of the forest, Kamose and the others in the middle of a clearing. I heard the cannon and looked up to see a missile coming our way. The Beasts were going to sacrifice a few of their own to kill the Emperor. But I couldn’t let them win, so I ran to the clearing, closer to them so I could protect them.
Kamose was the first one to notice me, I could see the surprise in his eyes when he saw me, even after he forbid me to be part of the battle, but there was no time for recriminations or explanations, I needed to stop the missile. Once I was close enough, I used all of my power to lift a psychic wall, one bigger and stronger than anything I had ever tried before, shaping it like a dome above us, I braced for the impact. The rumble caused by the missile hitting my wall was deafening and for a moment I couldn’t hear anything else. I felt my wall crumbling down and I couldn’t do anything to stop it, but at least it had served its purpose, the Emperor and his generals were safe.
“What are you doing here?” Kamose asked once I was strong enough to walk closer to them.
“I have information that you need to have,” I said, “The Beasts knew we were coming and asked for help,” I felt how everyone’s attention shifted, the generals even let surprise slip their otherwise calm demeanor. “This attack was planned under the assumption we were facing a group of barbarians, but as you see they are using weapons from the Rebels Clans, they have enough firepower to take entire battalions out. We need to regroup and rethink our strategy.
“We decide what’s necessary,” Bunefer said, “and your information is a little late, we already noticed that the Beasts are using weapons they don’t usually use, we have been fighting them all day long.”
While I was talking to them Vasuman was using the small fires around us to create a barrier around us, keeping the Beasts at bay. With the help of our men the Beasts attacking us were quickly taken down. Kamose and Bunefer were having a telepathic chat, while Isis and Khreb were whispering among themselves.
“We need to move, now!” Another missile was coming our way, the roots of a psychic headache were already in my head and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stop another missile.
Before I could even try to lift my psychic wall I saw a fireball intercept the missile halfway, causing it to explode before reaching us. Unlike the last explosion where my wall took most of the damage, we were hit with the blast. A few warriors were thrown to the ground, some received a few injuries, but nothing really bad.
“We need to change locations,” Isis agreed, “we are an easy target standing here.”
“Agree, we need to leave.” Kamose accepted.
The soldiers around us started moving, some left in the direction where the missiles were coming from, others started in different directions, clearing a path for us. Kamose hadn’t spoken a single order, but I knew he had other ways to express his orders.
“It will be better if we go to the Assassins camp.” Isis suggested.
“Agreed.” Kamose accepted. “The Beasts have been one step before us this whole time, if we keep to our usual movements we may be playing into their hands.”
“How did you find out what the Beasts were planning?” Bunefer asked when we started moving.
“A Seer told me.” I said. “One of my contacts.”
“All the seers are at the Palace, how did you contact them?” I could tell she didn’t believe me, nor trusted me.
“It wasn’t a Clan’s seer, but I trust him.” I was thinking about Melchizedek and let his image float in my mind, so both Bunefer and Kamose could see if they wanted, I felt both their mind circling mine, fishing for more information.
“Why didn’t you send a message instead of coming? It wasn’t necessary for you to come here.” Kamose said.
“I’m thankful for your disobedience,” whispered Khreb, but I was sure everyone heard him, “we would have been dead if it wasn’t for your intervention and Vasuman’s.”
“We had everything under control, we didn’t need her.” Bunefer refuted.
I was restless, something wasn’t right, I had a really bad feeling. We walked for a long time, between my people and their people our group was too big to go unnoticed. We were moving silently between the trees when a group of Beasts attacked. Isis protected us, raising natural barriers between us and the Beasts and creating an escape route. Khreb and Isis stayed behind to fight the Beasts while we continued out of the forest.
“It’s like they know where we are going.” Bunefer said.
“You think they’re using a seer?” Vasuman asked.
“More like hundred of spies,” I said, finally understanding what was going on. “They are the Beasts Clan, we assumed they were nothing but a bunch of mutants with animal traits, but they’re not all the same, some of them could be talking to the animals and plants using zoopathy or clorpathy. Like the Naturalists.”
“None of our reports showed signs of it, but it is a possibility, and it could be a real problem, because this is their territory and is full of creatures,” Kamose said. “That theory would certainly explain why our attacks were not as successful as we expected.”
I remembered my mother’s teachings: never underestimate your enemy. That had been our problem with the Beasts since the beginning. We have been wrong about their numbers, their structure and capabilities. Their fragmented nature and limited abilities of individual tribes hadn’t prepared us for the real power of the Clan. I stopped for a moment, feeling the forest, we were surrounded by hundred if not thousand of animals.
As if answering my fears I hear an animal roar at my back, I turned in time to see a big cat jumping at me. I used my mind to grab the animal in the air and throw it against a tree. The animal fell to the ground, with a broken spine it wouldn’t be moving anytime soon. Another sound alerted me of another threat, this time not a cat, but a group of birds coming our way. Vasuman created a wall of fire to protect us and cover our escape, but in the middle of the forest it was difficult to control the fire, even for him.
“We need to get out of the forest.” Kamose’s voice was loud and clear, and everyone started moving to a clearing visible through the trees.
It took us a few minutes to reach the clearing, a water stream ran through it. I froze in recognition at the edge of the clearing, I looked up and noticed the sun was moving faster than I expected, we only had a couple of hours before sunset.
“Something is not right.” I told Vasuman who was glued to my side. “We need to get out of here.”
“We need a minute to regroup, we still have a lot of ground to cover before reaching the Assassins’ camp, but we need to wait for Isis and Khreb.” Kamose said.
“We need to keep moving, we are an easy target in this clearing.” I had to make him move, but I couldn’t tell him that this was where he was going to die, he wouldn’t believe me, or worse, he could guess what my secret was.
“We are an easy target in the forest as well with all those animals.” Buenefer said.
I was about to talk when someone stepped on a landmine, rocks and dirt rained on me. I was stunned for a moment, then I realized that another group of Beasts was coming our way, this time backed up by animals: bears, wild cats, wolves… Another explosion killed or injured more of our people, and I realized that we were at a numerical disadvantage. I saw the one who I thought was the leader collapse and noticed that Kamose was already fighting them.
“This is a trap,” I stated the obvious, “this place is full of landmines, I can try to find them and make them explode or at least mark the place where they buried.”
“If you can’t make them explode safely, then just mark a path where we can walk through this safely.” Kamose ordered.
I buried my hands on the ground and let my powers connect me with it, I searched for the landmines and moved the ground around them to mark their location so we could avoid them. Despite our numerical disadvantage I noticed that our powers were superior and the fight was going our way. But from the forest across the clearing more Beasts were coming. It was more than we could fight. This was not what I had seen in my vision, something had changed, maybe my presence had changed something, but still I felt unease, I knew that Kamose was still in danger. During the time I had been marking the landmines he had moved away from me, I needed to get closer to him so I could protect him. I started moving towards him when I heard the cannon firing. I used my mind to change the missile’s trajectory and it exploded a few yards from where we were. Then another missile was shot and I moved it further away.
Something hit my back and I fell, a second shot on the floor next to me confirmed that someone was firing at me. I stood up as fast as I could, grateful that my jacket was bulletproof, but knowing that nothing could save me if they shot me in the head. Under the firing it was harder to move or concentrate, and I still needed to get closer to Kamose. I got distracted by a new missile and when I realized it, I was already surrounded by Beasts, one of them had a rifle pointed at me. Before he could shoot me, two of my guards, Tankene and Kroppen, took his rifle away. The Beasts attacked, Kroppen stopped the first one and I used my mind to push another one towards one of his teammates. When I looked around I saw Tankene already fighting another. I let them take care of them while I once again tried moving closer to Kamose, but it was almost impossible. He was doing a good job fighting against his attackers, but he wasn’t capable of fighting the missiles that were getting closer and closer to him. He was trying to stay away from their trajectory, but with so many warriors in his way it was getting harder.
A second of distraction let a Beast reach me, I reacted out of instinct and blocked his attack, but while trying to defend myself, I had taken a step back, it was too late by the time I noticed the ground giving way under my feet and the metallic sound reached my ears. I looked down to see the disturbed soil around me marking the landmine location. My enemy noticed as well and moved back, he knew, as well as I, that I was dead as soon as I moved. He pulled his gun out of his belt and aimed at me, I saw him smile, he knew I couldn’t move to dodge the bullet, he would either shoot me dead or make me move so I would be blown apart by the landmine. I was frozen, trying to weigh my options when the man was surrounded by flames, he was screaming in pain, he tried to run to the water, but he was dead before he could reach it. I saw Vasuman and he looked at me with concern.
“Can you get out of there?” He asked.
“Maybe, if I can connect with the mechanism I may be able to neutralize it for enough time for me to move away before it explodes.” If I was lucky enough, if Vasuman could keep the Beasts away from me long enough.
“Try it.” He asked.
Very carefully I bend down until I could touch the mine with my hand, then, trying very hard not to set it off I tried to connect with it, but I was distracted by a weird silence, a pause in the battle. I looked up and saw several missiles coming our way. I saw several warriors trying to stop them or protect us, like I had done before, but they weren’t strong enough and there were too many missiles. I looked around, trying to find Kamose, but from my position I couldn’t see him. What happened next was both too fast and too slow, the weird silence was broken by the boom of the missile hitting the ground. I tried to cover myself with my arms and I used the rest of my strength to raise a psychic wall around me, but I realized that even if my wall was able to protect me from the shrapnel flying my way, the blast was enough to move me from my spot, and then not even my psychic wall was going to protect me from the landmine under my feet. I couldn’t believe it, this was not how I was supposed to die, and it wasn’t like this that I was supposed to lose my father either.
I felt what I thought was the blast pushing me as I heard the beep that preceded the explosion, but the blast wasn’t as strong as I expected and beside some bruises and scratches I was fine, lying among the dirt, plants and rocks that the explosion had thrown. I could hear more impacts and explosions around me, but they sounded far, far away. It was like a bad dream, it didn’t feel real, maybe it wasn’t. With the dust and smoke in the air it was impossible to see farther than my hands, and it was alright, I was too disoriented to care, or to notice how my ears were bleeding and my hearing compromised. I tried to move, but after a few steps I tripped over something.
I looked down to see what I had tripped over, and I saw Vasuman’s face, with blood and mud covering it. I kneel and tried to wake him up, but as the dust settled, I noticed that Vasuman’s body wasn’t there. I felt sick, I felt dizzy and started throwing up, I thought I was going to pass out. I looked again, thinking that maybe it was a mistake, but it wasn’t, and when my brain started working again I realized what had happened. Vasuman had covered the mine with his body to protect me, and he had blown into pieces.
I started screaming like crazy, my psychic energy exploded in a blast that cleared the rest of the dust and smoke lingering in the air. I got my first clear view of the battlefield, dozens of bodies lay on the ground, covering the ground in death, some injured warriors were searching the bodies, taking the opportunity to finish those too weak to defend themselves.
I got up and took a sword that was laying on the ground, walking around I started killing every Beast I found on my way. I finally reached Bunefer, she had Kamose’s broken body in her arms. She was crying for her lost lover in a way that I couldn’t, I had no tears left and even if I had, I had no right to cry over him, because his death was my fault. I killed Vasuman, and I couldn’t even save Kamose, I had failed them both.
I fell to my knees, it was too much, the guilt and the pain were clawing at me, making me mad. Before I realize it, I was leaving my body behind, entering the astral plane. From there I had a better sight of the horrors of the battlefield. Searching to escape I found a sight that I wasn’t expecting, Cerridwen had mentioned it once, but it was very different seeing it. I saw the part of a person that lived on, the soul or essence or whatever you called it, leaving the bodies and entering the astral planes, moving through the battlefield’s copy in the astral plane. The shapeless figures all looked the same, but I felt attracted by one of them, and as I got closer, I knew that it was Kamose. I remembered all those astral walks that I had shared with Cerridwen, and the same feeling of rightness filled me. Kamose, or what was left of him got closer to me, enveloping me in a warm and comforting feeling. There were no words between us, but I knew that he didn’t blame me for his death, he was thanking me for trying to help him. He started to fade away, moving up the astral planes. I couldn’t follow him and I begged him not to go, for the first time in my life I felt close to him, loved by him, and I didn’t want the feeling to go away. But it was too late, he was dead and I couldn’t tell him how much I cared for him, how much I loved him despite everything, how much I craved his acceptance. And then he was gone forever.
Guilt and desperation returned and made me fall, down and down, I was sucked into the darkness of the lower planes, dragged along the lost souls to the cold embrace of the shadows that wanted to consume and destroy. I was powerless to fight them, too much guilt, too much pain, too much negativity feeding them until there was nothing else.
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