It had been two days since Agis’ visit. I wasn’t sure yet how to feel about it, it was difficult to discover that a person that had been a friend for so long, that had helped me and protected me, was capable of such betrayal. Agis had disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. I suspected that Trajan had something to do with it, but I wasn’t sure about it, I didn’t want to ask, so I only had my suspicions. It was easier to pretend that nothing had happened, that Agis hadn’t betrayed me and that no one had noticed my moment of weakness. I needed to be strong, I couldn’t let anyone see how weak I truly was.
The morning had been spent training with my guards, I could still feel them around me. I had let them break lines after the fight and some of them were seated around me, most of them too tired or too injured to stay on their feet. I was seated in the middle of the arena, I had left my body for a while, stepping into the astral planes. One of my guards was able to see astral images, she had seen me leave my body, but had missed my return. They still thought I was away, but they were still on guard, the silence and the tension in the air so heavy I could feel it. They were ready to fight off any threat to me, their training so ingrained that not one of them would let their tiredness keep them from doing their job.
I needed the time and the meditation to think about the vision I had of my daughter, the one that had given me hope of her survival. More visions of her death had visited me, but I was determined to find a way to make that single vision reality, I just had to find the right path, but despite all of Melchizedek’s teachings I haven’t found that path. I was running out of time, I needed to make a decision and fast.
I heard the doors of the arena opening, I was so caught up in my thoughts that I hadn’t noticed the time. The change of guards had arrived.
“You are late.” I heard a voice accusing.
“We would have been on time, but you weren’t where you were supposed to be.”
“The Empress orders, she wanted to make an astral journey, that’s why we stayed here.”
“Lord, you have no idea what you missed.” It was easy to identify the strong and sensual voice, it was Liderc.
“I have an idea, but really, Lamia is not my type, I don’t care how good she is. There is only one woman I would willingly bed.” I didn’t like those words, what was he implying?
“You need to expand your options, you are missing on half of the fun.”
I heard some of the guards leaving the place, even Lord was getting away, they needed their rest. I didn’t hear any more exchanges between Lord and Liderc, but Liderc’s laugh told me that some kind of exchange had taken place. I opened my eyes and found my guards already on their positions around me, Liderc was standing to my right.
“You look awful,” I told him. He had bruises under his eyes and even looked thin, he looked more like a warrior coming back from the battlefield than a man that had spent the last two days resting. “What happened to you?” I had to ask, because he wouldn’t tell me anything any other way.
“Nothing my Empress, I just had one of the best nights in my life.” His satisfied smile and the sincerity of his words surprised me, how good could it had been if he looked like that? “I don’t know what I did to deserve your gift, but please tell me so I can do it again.”
“Are you sure that it was an experience you want to repeat? You really look awful, I thought that being a Vlad like Lamia you could minimize the damage, but I can see that she drained you.”
“Lamia is a woman that likes to take, if giving her a little of my energy is what she needs, then it’s worth the experience.”
Liderc did look awful, but my empathy was telling me that he felt great, he was happy, satisfied, better than before. Even without my powers I could see the change, his eyes were sparkling with life. Some of the people who shared Joshes’ bed were like that, some people weren’t trying to resist her, some people actually looked for her. Again, I had to face the fact that I was the one with the problem, I had hated my time with Joshes, hated the feeling of losing control of my own body, feared the promises of pleasure that quickly turned into pain. I was the most powerful woman in the Empire, capable of fighting anyone and win, but I was broken, damaged, incomplete. I hated feeling like that, I hated to think people would find out how weak I was, what a fraud I really was, how underneath the illusion of power was my vulnerability hiding.
I went back to my office, my guards walking behind me, moving in silence. I arrived and found Trajan and Isis waiting for me outside my office.
“Where were you?” Isis asked, annoyed, when she saw me.
“Where I was and what I was doing is my problem, not yours. What do you want?”
“We need to talk about the Clans Reunion, is been too long, you have to start taking this seriously, you have a duty to them,” Isis reminded me yet again.
“Don’t worry, I already have an idea of when to call for the next reunion. Now leave us Isis, I need to talk to Trajan.”
Isis left, she wasn’t happy, but she had no choice but to obey me. Trajan went with me into my office and sat in front of me.
“What do you need Kaiserin?” He gave me a smile, as always, letting the mask he wore as a general slip just for me.
“I need you to organize a trip for me, I need to go to the Shadowlands, it’s important for me to speak with their leader.” I needed Melchizedek to help me, I couldn’t risk to make a mistake again, my daughter’s life was too important for me to make a mistake. Melchizedek had more experience than me, he could help interpret the vision and find the right path.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea sister.”
“Please Trajan, I don’t want to fight you about this, I really need to see him. I just need you to prepare my escort for the trip, I don’t need that many people, is easier to move with less people and I want to go and come back as soon as possible. I also want to ask you to stay behind and take care of the Empire for me, I don’t want Isis getting her hands into my things. You get to play the Emperor while I’m away.”
“I would feel better if I go with you.” Trajan was serious, he didn’t like the idea of me going away.
“And I would feel better knowing that you are here. Don’t worry about me, I know how to take care of myself. You choose the guards that will escort me, you know them better and I trust you to make the right choices.”
“I will do my best.”
It took over a week plan the trip. I promised Isis that we would send the invitations for the Reunion as soon as I came back from the Shadowlands. I was surprised to find Lamia among the people going away with me, she had asked Trajan to let her go, she saw it as an opportunity to improve our relationship, to recover the easy friendship we had shared as young soldiers. I thanked the thought, but I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea, I already had many things in my head, and I didn’t need to worry about Lamia and me on top of everything.
“You are very quiet Kaiserin,” Lamia complained from her seat next to me.
“I have a lot on my mind,” I answered.
“Is there something I can help you with?” I didn’t answer and for a while Lamia stayed silent. “Just because I don’t agree with some of your ideas it doesn’t mean that I won’t do everything I can to help you, you are my Empress, my cousin and above all my friend.”
“Thank you Lamia.” Her words soothed me a little bit, gave me back a little peace.
“I worry about you, you know. I know that something is bothering you and I would like for you to trust me enough to share your burdens. I’m here for you.”
“It’s nothing to worry about,” I decided to give her a couple of truths so she would stop asking questions. “For a long time I focused on proving to my father how strong I was, how deserving of him, also, I spent a lot of energy in proving Caracalla that he hadn’t defeated me, that I was better than him. Now they both are dead and I feel like I don’t have a purpose anymore. I never wanted to be the Empress, it was just a side effect of my need to prove everyone that I wasn’t defeated.”
“Why don’t give it up then?” She asked. I couldn’t read her expression, I didn’t know what she was thinking and I didn’t want to enter her mind and invade her privacy. I wanted to trust her and I needed to leave my insecurities and fears behind me.
“I really think I can make a difference as an Empress, I think I can make things better for everyone and make the Empire stronger. Do you remember what my mother used to say? The best person for the position is not the one who wants it, but the one who can’t help to have it, the one that realizes that being Empress is not about controlling people, but helping them. I think I am that person and I want to do my best.”
“Yeah, you really are that person.” Again, I couldn’t read anything from her voice, she betrayed no emotion, but I believed in her and I felt better because she was agreeing with me.
“That’s why I need to keep being the Empress, besides, what else could I do? Besides, I can’t stop being the Empress unless a new power arises and kills me and I don’t want to die yet. I’m stuck being the Empress for a little while longer.”
“If you keep working and making reforms at the same pace then you will die of exhaustion and it won’t be so long.”
“You are right, I need some rest. I will take a nap.”
It was a long journey, especially with a group as large as mine. The time was spent talking to Lamia and as time flew I got to know Lamia again, the friend that I had missed so much. I felt better, I couldn’t stop people from changing, but I could get to know them again. It wasn’t fair to expect them to be the same people I knew, it would be hypocritical of me since I had changed so much.
The second night of our travel I asked to be left alone in my room after supper. My men had wanted to continue the journey, at least until we arrived to the next post, but for some reason I wanted to camp in the open, the place we were called to me and I couldn’t resist it. I felt like I had to be there, and I had learned not to dismiss my premonitions.
As I was preparing for bed, I was trapped inside a vision. Blood and death surrounded me, I saw Lamia’s face and I felt a stab of pain.
When the vision ended, I called the two guards outside my door, after using my powers to make sure both of them were loyal to me I entered the astral planes. There were a couple of presences in the astral planes, one on the superior plane, one on the inferior plane. I walked through the material plane, it was a difficult task for it was easy to slip out of it, but I needed to walk without being seen. Very few psychics were able to see astral bodies, so it was easier to go unnoticed in the astral body.
I followed my instincts and after a while I was rewarded when I found a group of soldiers walking toward us. It was a heavy armed army, ready for battle. I kept my distance and tried to see how many they were and how long it would take them to reach us. While I was watching them I saw something I wasn’t expecting to see, Lamia was hiding by the side of the road, covered by the shadows of the forest around us.
I was afraid for her, she was alone and the enemy was fast approaching, I tried to find a way of warning her and I couldn’t find it. It was later that I had the clarity of mind to wonder what she was doing there, alone and away from our camp. I didn’t have to wait long for my answer, as soon as the group approached, she went out of hiding and stood in the middle of the road. One of the men in the group went to her, and I recognized him as Pedres. I understood Lamia’s desire to meet with Pedres, I had known for a while that they were lovers. But I couldn’t understand why he was coming at us ready for battle. If all he wanted was to see Lamia, he wouldn’t need an army.
I couldn’t lose more time, so I went back to my body, I didn’t bother with precautions, I didn’t hide on my way back, it was more important to go back and warn my people of the danger. I had no doubt we were about to be attacked and I wasn’t letting them take us by surprise.
Once back in my body I ordered my guards to go get their men ready for battle, I started to form a battle plan and put my battle clothes. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I knew that no matter what I wouldn’t let Pedres or Lamia make a fool out of me. If they wanted a fight, they were going to get a fight.