Everything was ready, yet I was hoping I was wrong and that there was nothing to worry about, that my suspicions were just the result of my imagination. I heard noises outside my tent and saw Lamia entering my room. I had changed my guards to a pair of simple soldiers, I was hoping she hadn’t killed them, I had changed them not because the soldiers were expendable, every life was valuable, but because my guards were more useful in other parts. Lamia was moving silently, but I could feel her movements. When she was halfway to me, I moved.
“Lamia?” I asked, faking confusion and sleepiness.
She didn’t answer, she moved like a viper trying to strike, but I was waiting for it and my psychic wall stopped the syringe she had in her hand, from getting to me. She tried to absorb the energy in my wall, but I used my powers to open the ground under her feet, the hole under her grew too fast for her to react, and before she could react I had closed it again around her, trapping her legs and arms, half of her body buried in the ground. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t escape.
“Why Lamia?” I couldn’t understand her motivation, why was she betraying me? I took the syringe she had dropped and, not wanting to go closer to her, used my mind to inject the liquid in the syringe in her. She tried to resist, but she had no room for movement.
Lamia stood frozen once the liquid got into her system, she was still breathing, I checked, but she couldn’t move, even her eyes were paralyzed. I hated her at that moment because I could see how defenseless she was, and that kind of vulnerability was a nightmare for me. How could she had planned that for me? What kind of friend was willing to use my worst fear against me?
I went out of the tent and checked the soldiers that Lamia had attacked, they were still alive and apparently only suffering from lack of energy. They were going to survive so I didn’t waste my time with them, I kept moving and soon one of my guards was by my side.
“Everything is ready, apparently they are waiting for some kind of signal.”
“I’m sure they’re waiting for Lamia to let them know that I have been neutralized.” I could go back and try to steal information from Lamia’s mind, but I had no time to waste. “Let our troops know that they are to attack at my signal. And I don’t want them to take any risks, if they can, I want them to capture them, but if they think there is any risk, then just kill them.”
“As you wish, my Empress.”
I walked to the center of the camp, I was barefoot and that allowed me to feel the ground through my feet, connecting to the ground under me. I felt the air on my skin and the heat from the dying fire. When I was ready I took the ember from the fire and sending them to the sky I made them blow, the small explosion alerting my men that it was time to attack. I moved as fast as I could to the place where the fight was taking place. I used my connection to the ground to build a wall behind Pedres’ troops so they couldn’t escape my men.
Pedres was prepared for me, they had the numerical advantage, he had at least three men for each of mine. But his plan was to take us by surprise, and they were counting on Lamia’s help. Without that the advantage was ours, they had no opportunity to win. The fight ended in just a few minutes, half of his men were dead and mine only had superficial wounds. But I wasn’t feeling like a winner, just the fact that I had to fight them made me feel like a loser. They had tried to betray me, and that was the worse defeat I could get.
“What are your orders, Empress?” asked one of my officials.
“Secure the prisoners. Including Lamia, just make sure to keep her away from Pedres.”
I called my officers and they joined me during breakfast.
“What happens now?” One of them asked.
“I want half of you to take the prisoners and go back to the Palace with them. Trajan is already on his way here with more men, you need to report to him, he will decide what to do with the prisoners. For obvious reasons we can’t send Lamia to the Palace jail, she had been working there for too long and is possible that some people there will be loyal to her. Trajan will go to the Toreador Clan to find if Pedres was action by himself or if his Clan was behind this. Once he finds out he will decide their punishment.”
“Are you joining Trajan at the Toreador’s territory?” asked one of them.
“No, I will take half of the soldiers and continue my trip.” They were trying to mask their reactions, but I saw and felt the surprise and anger my decision was giving them. “I won’t let this attack change my plans. I won’t give them any power over me and my life. I have important issues to discuss with the Shadowlands leader and I won’t change my plans for any reason.”
“With all due respect, I don’t think is a good idea to continue your trip, especially with just half of your escort. What would happen if they decide to attack again?”
“I am more than able to defend myself, I don’t need anyone to protect me. And I would think that after today you would realize that I won’t be taken by surprise. I have spent many years fighting people determined to kill me, I know how to assess threats, I know how to recognize a problem and how to neutralize it.”
“Wouldn’t be better to wait for general Trajan and give him custody of the prisoners? That way you would be able to continue with the same number of people.” Another one suggested.
“No, that’s no up to discussion, I want everyone ready to continue in two hours, so I suggest that you start lifting camp and preparing the prisoners.”
I stayed at the edge of the camp while they worked, my guards were around me as the rest of the soldiers did their jobs. I had let the decision of who would go where, to my men, I decided not to trust them for the moment, no matter who went with me I would treat them as possible traitors. I looked into their minds, they seemed to be worried bout me, they didn’t want to hurt me, they wanted to protect me, but I couldn’t relax, not after what Lamia had done.
I had refused to see either Lamia or Pedres, I wasn’t ready to face them. Lamia because she had been my friend, and Pedres because I blamed him for Lamia’s change. I also was feeling bad about Kozlak, Lamia’s betray would hurt him too, it would end any hope that he had of going back to her.
The rest of the journey was quiet, we found no problems the rest of our way. I had a few astral encounters with Trajan, where he kept me up to date with his end of the situation. Lamia had been sent to a jail up north, Pedres and his men were on their way to the Palace. Trajan was at the Toreador’s territory, Bravia insisted she didn’t know anything about her son’s plans, but Trajan wasn’t so sure, so he stayed there waiting to see what he could find out. A big scale attack was already in motion, just in case Trajan’s suspicions were true and he had to put the whole Clan under supervision. I trusted Trajan to take care of the problem, but I was worried about Isis alone in the Palace and wished Trajan could hurry up.
As we approached the place where Melchizedek was waiting I started feeling more calm. I got out of the vehicle when we were just over a mile away, I wanted to arrive by foot and preferable alone, just so I didn’t worry the locals, but our arrival wasn’t missed, by the time I came into view of the village I could see a small group already waiting for us. A small child ran towards me, receiving me with open arms, little Mistral had grown a lot in the few months I hadn’t seen her. Not caring about the image I was showing to my warriors and not caring about my role as Empress, I too ran to Mistral and took her in my arms. I hugged her and received, without complaining, the wet kisses she was giving me.
“Nina! – The small child shouted with happiness. “Daddy said you were coming, but you took too long!”
“Mistral, I explained that your madrina is a very busy woman, just be thankful that she could come to see you and don’t complain to her.” Soturi gently scolded her.
“How are you? Where is Melchizedek?” I asked Soturi.
“I’m sorry he couldn’t be here to greet you, but he had an urgent matter to attend in another village, but don’t worry, he knew you were coming and let everything ready for your arrival. We have a place ready for your men and, as always, we have a place for you in our home, we would be honored if you stay with us. Would you like a cup of coffee? We can catch up while we wait for Melch.
“The honor would be mine, just let me set my men and warn them to be on their best behavior. I also need to make sure my guards understand that while in the Shadows I don’t need them to protect me.”
“Of course. Come Mistral, help me prepare some food for you nina Kaiserin.”
“No!” the little child said, hugging my neck as if her life depended on it. “I want to go with my nina.”
And that’s how I spent the next hour giving orders and settling my men while I had a little child attached to my neck. But I was grateful for the distraction, because even if Mistral was making my job harder with her questions and constant interruptions, her warmth and sweet smell were helping me feel better, happier. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to have my own daughter in my arms if having Mistral could feel so right, surely it could only be better to have a child that was part of you.
Later, while I talked with Soturi and she prepared supper, Melchizedek arrived.
“Congratulations Empress.” Melchizedek smiled at me and opened his arms wide to receive me.
“Thanks Melchizedek.” I went into his arms. It was getting easier to be part of their extravagant shows of affection the longer I knew them.
“I’m glad you came to me, you have arrived just in time. Difficult times are coming your way, you have very hard choices to make and I hope that I can give you the guidance you need to take the path that will be better for you.”
“I guess you already know everything, right?” I asked.
“It’s always hard to face a betrayal, but if the one that betrays is someone you considered your friends is even harder. I’m sorry I have to tell you this, but things will be even worse. A time of great vulnerability and danger for you is coming. I know, because of what you told me last time, that you don’t want anyone to find out that you are a seer. I have to warn you, the risk of being discovered is only going to increase with your pregnancy, the visions are going to be more and more frequent.”
“Of course you had to know I was pregnant.” My pregnancy was something I was used to hide, my need to protect my unborn daughter was too strong, but I should have known that something like that wouldn’t escape Melchizedek’s notice.
“That’s just another blessing in your life Kaiserin, one of many. I know that sometimes you think that life has been too hard on you and that nothing goes your way, but I promise, things will get better. A great destiny awaits you, you will have a wonderful life, but you need to get over the obstacles in your way before you can reach it.”
“Sometimes it’s just too much. I feel like I can trust no one. Agis and Lamia… I owe them my life. They fought for me, they helped me get my strength back, but now that I finally have what I wanted, is like they resent the help they gave me, it’s as if they preferred the weak pathetic version of me.”
“Some people need control, maybe when they helped you they thought that their help was giving them so control over you. Maybe at the time they were acting out of kindness and then they regretted giving you the power to surpass them. The problem, my dear Kaiserin, is that they are not the only ones. I would love to tell you that it won’t happen again, but as you know there are many complex paths in front of you and in many of them there is a risk that someone you care about, or even love, is going to hurt you. And the worse part is, sometimes they won’t even see that they are hurting you, sometimes their wish to protect you is going to cause them to harm you.”
“I don’t know what to do, I don’t know if I will be able to face this. I’m worried about my daughter and the possibility of losing her, but I also have a lot of responsibilities, I have a duty to my people and it would be selfish to just think about me, but I can’t just no do something.” I was desperate, it was a feeling I did not like. I needed time, and I needed help. “I need someone I can trust, I need your help.” Just having to ask for his help made me feel vulnerable.
“I will do my best to help you, and I would love to say to you that I will always be there for you and that you will always be able to trust me, but not even I can make a promise like that, all I can promise you is that I will do my very best to help you and I will try to be a person that deserves your trust.”
“That’s all I can really ask for.”