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Chapter 57

It had started to rain.  It was a soft rain that did nothing but increase the cold that was crawling down into my bones.  My father’s men, guided by Bunefer had gathered the injured and taken them to the medical camps for treatment.  The battlefield where Vasuman and Kamose had died was empty, just my bodyguards and I remained, the rest had already gone looking for treatment or survivors.

Tankene and Kroppen had found me after my meltdown and helped me get out of my astral trance, bringing me back to reality.  I had refused to go to one of the medical camps, and despite my insistence for them to go, Tankene and Kroppen stayed with me.  Tankene’s arm was hanging down, useless, and Kroppen had an open wound on his back, along with bruises and scratches all over their bodies.  But they had insisted on being with me, in helping me gather Vasuman’s remains to give him a proper goodbye.

Before the rain started, we had gathered enough wood for a funeral pyre.  Vasuman’s remains were burning now, the fire that never touched him in life was consuming him in death. I had no idea how long I had been watching the smoke rising to the sky, taking the man that had loved me and given me a second chance to live, to his final destination.

“It seems the powerful Kaiserin has failed again when it mattered most,” Caracalla’s voice mocked me.  “First, you let your mother die, now you failed your emperor and your lover.”

“Go away Caracalla, I don’t have time for you.”  My voice sounded hollow to my ears.  I knew that Caracalla wasn’t going to let the opportunity to attack me at my most vulnerable, but I wasn’t expecting to be alone by the time he came.

“That’s what you wish, but no, there’s no one else to defend you now and I’m decided to finish what we started six years ago.”

“I don’t need anyone to defend me Caracalla, if you managed to defeat me six years ago was because Kamose was with you.”  I heard some giggles and laughing, Caracalla wasn’t alone.

I finally looked away from the fire and confronted Caracalla.  I knew he wasn’t going to be alone, but I wasn’t expecting as many people as he had with him.  His group was big enough that I couldn’t see everyone, some were lost on the fringe in the forest and their shadows between the trees was all I could see.  Tankene and Kroppen moved in front of me, putting a barrier between Caracalla and me, but as sweet as that gesture was, it was a pointless one, neither of them was strong enough to stop him.

“I see you are not alone,” I finally said, “are you that afraid of me that you need a small army to kill me?”

“I don’t need them,” he said, “and I’m not going to kill you.  Six years ago I wanted to, but my father stopped me.  At first I was mad at him for trying to give you an easy, happy life, but then I heard about sector 32 and saw the opportunity to send you to there.  I would never have imagined how fun it could be until the reports started to come.  And now, there’s no one left to stop me from doing it again.  I won’t kill you Kaiserin, I will keep you alive for entertainment purposes.

“If you think you can defeat me, you are gravely mistaken,” I said, “I’m a telepath now, there no way you can lock my memories and take my powers away like Kamose did.”

“True, I can’t erase your memory or take your powers again, but I can destroy your mind until there’s nothing left but an empty shell, a hollow toy to keep me and my friends entertained.”  His followers started to laugh again.

“I’m not afraid of you Caracalla, and I’m not afraid of them.  Although is clear to me that you are afraid of me.”

“I’m not afraid of anyone,” he yelled, losing his cool, “I’m better than you in every sense.”

“If that was true, you would be facing me one on one.”

“That’s what you wished, but I won’t waste my time in a piece of trash like you.”

“That’s what you say, but you spent so much time and resources looking for a way to get rid of me, you know that the only way you can take me out is if you play dirty.”

“I don’t need anyone’s help to destroy you!”

“Brave words, but your actions betray you, if you were really sure of yourself you wouldn’t be hiding behind so many warriors, you would face me in a battle.”

“I could kill you so easily right now, you are pathetic, you are tired and injured.  Breaking you wouldn’t even be fun right now.”  His words sent a shiver down my spine.  He was right, I was hurt, injured, and tired.  All I wanted was to crawl down and sleep, and never wake up.

“You are insane if you think we will allow you to touch our general.” Kroppen said.

“You are the insane ones if you think that a piece of trash like you could stop us,” Caracalla said.  “We are not only more powerful than you, we are more.”

“Only a warrior without honor would take advantage of a situation like this,” Tankene said.  “It’s true that we are tired and injured, but we are willing to fight you until our last breath.”

“I’m just smarter than you, I know how to take advantage of any situation.” Caracalla proudly said.

“Smart enough to know that you would never get the throne by your own merits?  That’s why you are doing this, why you always cheat and scheme, you know it’s the only way you can win.  Do you think I don’t know what you did today?  You always were Kamose’s weakness, he trusted you and you betrayed him.  You were helping him gather the Beast’s information, and you modified it so he would underestimate them and die, you wanted to get rid of as many generals as you could, you didn’t even care how it would affect the Clan, you only thought of yourself.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” But his smug smile and proud stand only confirmed my suspicions.

“Even if you could get rid of me, that doesn’t mean that you will get the throne, we are not one of the Allied Clans, being the Emperor’s son doesn’t make you the next Emperor.”

“I have the Regals with me, they will make me the next emperor.” He announced.

“Not all the Regals,” Trajan said from the shadows behind me, “and after what you did today, I’m sure that you would be the worst choice for the throne.”  He was getting closer, his voice louder.

“Traitor!” Caracalla was furious.

“I won’t let you harm Kaiserin, is better if you realize that she is not alone.” Trajan warned him.

“And you think you can stop me?” Caracalla mocked his brother.

“We can stop you,” Agis said.  “You are mistaken if you think that all the Regals will follow you.” I turned to see him, and noticed that Trajan and Agis weren’t alone, a small group of Regals were with them.

“I don’t know why you think you could get away with this Caracalla,” Inionri’s voice was coming from the other side, “as you see not all the Regals are by your side, some of them are behind Kaiserin, as are a considerable number of Maximas.”

“And Vlads,” Kozlaks voice announced.

“And don’t forget the Amon’s,” Geb added from another group.

“I know you don’t think much of us, the minor families,” Modra said, “but Kaiserin has our support as well.” She was with some of the surviving warriors from my own sector.

“Maybe he doesn’t think much of you,” Flora, the Naturalists heiress said, “but he can’t deny the importance of the Allied Clan’s heirs.”

“And even if we are a small group, we come from the most powerful Clans,” Dendro added.

“You are wasting your time if you think we will let you harm Kaiserin,” Trajan stood by my side. “We’re not only more powerful than you, we are more than you.”  His words let me know that they had been close by when Caracalla appeared, maybe even waiting for him.

“You are just delaying her fate,” Caracalla said, arrogant, but knowing he was at a disadvantage.  “We will finish this in two weeks, in the Succession Battle.  I will defeat you in front of the whole Clan.  And even if you don’t participate in the battle, once I become the Emperor, there will be nowhere to hide from me.”

“You will never be Emperor,” I said, “and I think you know it.”

Without another word Caracalla and his followers left, as fast and silently as he arrived.  I turned back and realized that the funeral pyre was almost gone, just a few embers were left, the rain was doing a good job of extinguishing them.  There was enough light left to see the group that had gathered behind me, it was bigger than I expected, bigger than Caracalla’s, with faces I wasn’t even expecting, like Net’s and Hor’s.

“You are all here,” I said, surprised.

“Did you doubt it?” Kozlak asked.

“We would never leave you alone,” Inionri said, “especially not to face someone like Caracalla.”

“But I know you have your own problems and duties, some of you are even injured, I thought…”  for a moment I had thought that I was going to have to face Caracalla alone.  I had asked for help, but I was afraid no one would come.  “Thanks for coming, I’m not sure if I could… there were so many of them…”

“You’re hurt,” Dendro was staring at me.  “Come with me, my mother will patch you up.”

“Is nothing,” I shrugged, “there’s other people who need her help more than me.”

“You need to be at your best Kaiserin,” Trajan added, “I really doubt Caracalla will wait until the battle to try something again, is better if you go with the Assassins and let them check you.”

“I’m not the only one in danger Trajan, Caracalla thinks you betrayed him and will try to kill you too.”  I had never expected Trajan to go against his brother, not for me anyway.  He had to be aware of the consequences.

“You don’t need to worry about me,” he said, “I will take my precautions, worry about yourself.”  He had really changed, and I haven’t noticed when.

Suddenly I felt really tired, I haven’t even noticed how exhausted I really was until then, and the rain wasn’t helping, I felt so cold I couldn’t even remember what warmth was.

“Thanks.” It was all I could manage to say before I followed Dendro to his camp.

Curare was just as impressive as always, but the dark circles under her eyes and her slow movements betrayed her exhaustion.  I felt guilty about taking her time, I was sure she had other people who needed her help, I was just wasting her time.

“You will be fine, none of your injuries are life threatening,” Curare said, after she checked me and ran a bunch of analysis and tests that I thought unnecessary, “you will be hurting for a few days, you have a lot of bruises.  I will give you some salve and medicine to prevent infections.  Most injuries caused by the Beasts can be infected, we will have to keep you monitored.  By tomorrow the rest of the test will come back and I will know for sure if there is something to worry about.”

“Thanks Curare, but as you said, I just have some light injuries, nothing to worry about, I just need some rest and I will be fine.”  I was feeling uncomfortable taking her time, and I wanted to be alone.  I needed to be alone, I needed time to think and mourn my losses.

“There’s nothing more important to me than making sure you’re ok,” she said, “you need to stay here, just in case.”  The look she gave me told me that she wouldn’t take no for an answer, I had to stay.

I was sure I wasn’t going to sleep, I felt so empty and a pain that had nothing to do with my wounds was consuming me, but before I noticed I was trapped in a restless sleep.

The next morning I woke up and dressed, I was moving without thinking, following everyday’s routine.  I just wanted to lay down and do nothing, but I had responsibilities as a general, and I had to go to the meeting, there were a lot of decisions to make, and we needed to make them because Kamose couldn’t… he was… gone.

I went directly to the meeting place without bothering to find something to eat.  I felt dizzy and had nausea, food was the last thing in my mind.  Kamose’s and Vasuman’s deaths were affecting me more than I thought.  I put my arms around me, trying to warm me up just a little bit.  Without Vasuman’s warmth it was as if I was going to be forever cold.

“How are you?” I haven’t even heard Isis approaching me until she was next to me.

“What do you care?” I said.  I wanted it to sound like an insult, but my voice was too weak.  “Isn’t it a little too late for you to pretend you care about me?” Once again, my voice was too weak for it to make the proper impact.

“It’s never too late to rectify our errors.  I wasn’t there for you six years ago, but I’m here for you now.”  I had no reason to trust her, she had let me down before, and for all I knew she could be trying to be on my good side just to be closer to me and stab me in the back at the first opportunity.  But then her arms wrapped around me and her hand started to stroke my hair in a soothing way and I just let her, borrowing just a little bit of her warmth.

It took me more time that I wanted to compose myself, I wasn’t expecting Isis’ gesture to affect me so much.  It was just that I felt so alone.

“Is everything alright?” asked Khreb when he saw us.

“Yes,” I said, but again, my voice failed me.

“Let’s go, we have things to do, the others must be expecting us.”  Khreb reminded us.  He offered his arm and I was just so tired that I accepted his support.

Most of the generals were already there, but the first one I noticed was Bunefer, her eyes were red and puffy, it was clear she had been crying and she wasn’t even trying to hide it.  When she saw me she tried to attack me.

“You knew it!” She said.  “You knew he was going to die and you didn’t say anything!”  Jomei had grabbed her before she could reach me.

“You wouldn’t have listened to me if I had.”  I was just too tired to try to deny it, and I really didn’t care what anyone thought.  “None of you would have believed me anyway, I just thought I could help him by myself.”

“You came here to save him?” Vajira asked, incredulity painted on her face.

“You worthless piece of shit!” Bunefer was yelling.  “You should have said something, he would have listened to you!” She was acting like a crazy person, and for the first time I realized that she really cared for Kamose, what they had, it had been real.  “He was always clueless about his children, he always trusted you, he would have believed you!”

“What did you say?” For a moment I thought I had imagined her words, it was almost as if Bunefer had accepted me as Kamose’s daughter.  It was as if she was saying that Kamose thought about my as one of his children.  But he always denied me, he always said I was nothing to him.

“But it was Caracalla’s fault, it was all Caracalla’s fault!” She yelled again, ignoring my question.  “If only I could prove it!” She was crying again, it was painful to see her.

Bunefer was a mess, she didn’t look like the second in command of the most powerful Clan in the Empire.  I sat down, I was confused and exhausted.

“What’s going to happen now?” I asked.

“We need to take Kamose’s remains to the Palace and give him a proper burial.”  Taking advantage of Bunefer’s meltdown, Isis took charge of the meeting.  “We need to contact all the heirs and other candidates to the Succession Battle and prepare everything.  We have two weeks to do it.”

“What about the Beasts?” I asked.  “Did we finish them?” I hated to think that it had been a waste, that our sacrifices had been in vain.

“It seems so,” Lobishomen said, “but we have a few squads looking around, trying to find survivors.”

They started to discuss how to handle the prisoners and how to divide he spoils between the Clans involved in the battle, but the more they talked the less I listened.  I was so tired I was getting sleepy, and distracted, nothing there held my attention for long.  After the meeting I went back to where my men had made our camp, it was close to the Assassins’ camp.

“How are you?” Modra asked as soon as she saw me in the camp, I haven’t even noticed she was approaching me, that’s how distracted I was.  It was a dangerous thing for me.

“I’m fine, don’t worry about me.”  But even to me, the words sounded hollow.

“I don’t want to bother you, but there’s some things that need your attention, decisions to make…” Modra looked uncomfortable, I wasn’t sure why, and I didn’t care either.

“Give me the reports, I will check them later.  I’m just going to rest for a little while.”  I needed to go to bed and maybe stay there for the rest of my life.

“Are you sure you’re ok?”

“Yes, I am, I just need some rest,” but it was a lie, one I was sure she didn’t buy. Nothing would ever be the same, and not even I knew how much things were going to change.

 

 

Copyright © 2014 | Kaiserin Novel

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