The woman was causing a storm in my mental landscape, I could feel how everything she touched started to crumble, how every step threatened to unravel everything that I was. As I moved to a safe place, I could do nothing to stop her, my mental energy was focused of stoping or fixing the damage she was causing, but once I had both minds available to defend myself, I would be able to go after the woman and stop her.
‘I got to give it to you,’ the woman’s words echoed in my mind, ‘your mind is an impressive fortress, the fact that you are retaining your sanity attest to your power.’
‘And the fact that you have gotten this far attest of yours,’ I said. There was something different about her mental representation, it didn’t feel right, there was something about her that was different. Her strength reminded me of my brother and other strong telepaths that I had crossed in the Empire. ‘I guess you came here to kill me.’
‘That’s right, but first I will make you pay for your crimes.’
Before I could say or do anything, she moved away from me, but she was in my mind, and I could find her anywhere. When I moved to where she was I had the chest that my father had given me in my hands, but before I had the chance to open it and unleash its power, I realized we had moved to the darkest part of my mind, the part of the labyrinth hiding the memories of my worst days.
‘You have some interesting memories,’ she said, opening one of the doors and waking one of those memories.
On the other side of the door, I could see Agmong and a few other Sargents moving towards me. I was so focused on that memory that I didn’t see she had opened another door until she pushed me through it. I wasn’t in the dark hallway anymore, I was hanging from a tree on he fringe of the camp, a few of my fellow soldiers were throwing dice, leaving to luck the decision of who was going to have the first turn with me. I knew what was coming, they were going to use me all night and the next day would be agony, but I would have to go on patrol anyway, or I would have to keep enduring their attentions all day too…
I relived the memory for what felt like hours but was more likely just a few minutes, until the other part of my mind, the one that was fighting to keep everything together, to fix the damage the woman was causing, had the chance to pull me out of it. I went out of the memory and found a lot of open doors. I couldn’t move without watching another scene from my hell. I found the woman again, and I decided to give her a taste of my pain, grabbing her mental representation and pushing her inside a memory, one with Rimsin, one of my worst nightmares.
It worked, for a moment, she was trapped in my memories, but it didn’t last long, she escaped to another side of my mind. I didn’t understand how she was able to move so freely, and why just her presence was like a poison in my mind, hurting and infecting everything she touched. But it was my mind, my battlefield, my territory. I couldn’t stay on the defense, what did I care about a little pain anyway. The pain she was causing me wasn’t as bad as the pain I had to live through for a couple of years before I could unlock the memories my father had hidden.
I went to the center of my mind and started building a cage made of memory crystals. While ignoring the pain in my mind as the woman went on a rampage, I built a prison she wouldn’t be able to escape, because not even my father had been able to break through the crystals. Once the cage was ready, I used all my strength to capture her mental representation and move it to the cage.
‘What’s going on?’ She asked, surprised by her inability to escape.
‘Did you really think I would allow you to keep moving freely? I’m tired of your games, this ends now.’ I could feel her trying to break free, but the crystals were the most powerful element inside my mind, and she wouldn’t be able to break the memories. ‘Who sent you?’ I asked her, more out of curiosity than necessity.
‘You were judged and found guilty. I’m here to make you pay for your crimes against humanity,’ the woman said, as she rattled the cage, causing a stab of pain. ‘Your mind is mine now, only one of us can posses a mind at a time, and my mind is more powerful than yours. Sooner or later you will get tired and my sole presence will tear your defenses apart. Only fragments will remain of you, you won’t be able to function anymore.’
‘You really don’t know what I’m capable of.’ Trusting my mind to be safe with her locked inside the cage, and that my subconscious had made all the necessary repairs on my mind, I conjured the mental representation of the other side of my mind. I was surprised to see that it took the form of Sklave, the weakest part of me, the one I wanted to make disappear, and who was a proof of how much her attack had wounded me or maybe it was that my inner demons were stronger than I thought. ‘My mind has what is known in my birthplace as a double mind. That means that since this started you were at a disadvantage, because it’s two against one. Maybe you think that you already won because you managed to break some parts of my mind, but I’m glad to inform that the damage is already fixed. And now that we can focus our full attention on you, you have no chance of winning this battle.’
‘Do you think your mind is the only one rejecting my presence? You focused your energy on rebuilding your walls and keeping your mind’s integrity, but you forgot your mind and body are tightly connected, and your body is also suffering the effects of my attack. While you are trapped here with me, your body is collapsing and there’s nothing you can do about it.’
Her words worried me, because I knew there was some truth in them, but I was afraid of what could happen if I let her alone with the vulnerable side of my mind. I couldn’t risk not knowing, so I focused my mind to the outside to see what was going on with my body. I noticed the pain immediately, it was as if my body was on fire, and that sensation, along with the just awoken memories almost sent Sklave to the surface, along with all my fears and my insecurities.
“Kaiserin?” I heard Thalia asking, and the surprise of having her there helped me to anchor my mind. “Is that you?”
“What are you doing here?” I asked, as I tried to find where I was, we weren’t in the same alley I last remembered, but in a room unfamiliar to me. “And where are we?”
“We found a room close to the place you went into trance, and brought you here, we thought it would be more comfortable, you weren’t looking so good,” Ivan answered.
I noticed that lying on the floor was the body of the woman that was attacking my mind. I could still feel her testing my defenses, trying to break free, but unable to do so. I could tell she had managed to somehow manipulate the memory crystals, but I had no idea what she was doing with them since she couldn’t move them or break them.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Thalia said. “Who are you? Kaiserin? Or Agata?”
“Agata? Is that the name of the woman?”
“The woman capable of briefly possessing the bodies of her victims.”
“That’s one impressive power,” I said, understanding at last just how terrifying my opponent was, “but don’t worry, she is locked in my mind right now.”
“I did some research about her, no one has been able to survive her attacks, just her presence poisons the mind and breaks down the body, she had never left a mind without destroying it before,” Thalia said, her voice full of worry. At least that explained why my body hurt so bad, it was as if it was at war with itself, my own defenses attacking me.
“She had never faced someone like me. I was able to stop her attack, and my mind is still whole,” at least from new damage. “Her mind is different, it’s hard to control it, I need a breather before I go back.” The chest had been abandoned in some corner in my mind and I had to go looking for it, sending the damaged, scared and vulnerable part of my mind for it to where my darkest memories lived wasn’t a good idea. Thalia was worried about Agata damaging my mind, she didn’t know how damaged it already was because of my past.
“You need to do it as fast as possible, the longer she stays inside, the worst your body will be,” Ivan suggested.
“You may be right, I’m not feeling so good.”
I went back inside my mind, I had seen that the woman, Agata, was telling the truth and had to take care of her. I summoned my mental representation outside her cage, I needed to be in front of her, I needed to face her before I could offer her a chance to save both of us a world of pain.
‘I hope you know now that you can’t escape. You can’t defeat me in my own territory, I’m not like your usual victims, and I’m not like other people you have faced, so I will give you a chance to get out of here without damage. Maybe you don’t trust me…’
‘I know, you are not what you seem,’ I paid more attention to her mental representation and realized she looked sad, and defeated… What had happened in the few minutes I had been away? ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.’ The woman looked about to start crying, her regret seemed sincere. But I wasn’t sure what was going on, and I knew her words could mean a lot of different things.’
‘Get out of my mind,’ I asked, and I felt her presence vanishing as soon as I spoke. I opened the cage I had made for her and I felt her mind leaving mine, but I still looked around for any remains of her mind. I noticed that while I had been busy fighting back Agata, Faakhir’s influence in my mind had grown, as if it was awake and knew it was its chance of taking more from me. That was a problem I had to take care of, I knew that I couldn’t go anywhere near Faakhir until I had his backdoor blocked again, or he would have more access to my memories and actions.
When I opened my eyes again I found a crying Agata being held down by Ivan and Thalia. I didn’t fault them for ignoring her tears, I was impressed by that, it was hard not to be moved by the pain in her angelic face, their strength by ignoring the pain in someone as sweet looking as her.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Please! Forgive me.” Agata asked again when she saw me moving. “I made a mistake, I judged you wrong, without having all the facts, so please, just tell me how I can fix this, how can I compensate you for the damage I caused, for hurting you when you didn’t deserve it.”
My body felt like it used to feel after a night of torture at the hands of Agmong, as if I had been electrocuted and my nerve endings weren’t aware the electricity was gone. I wasn’t sure what had happened to me or how my body had been affected by Agata, but I suspected the damage was mostly superficial, painful and a little incapacitating, at least for people that didn’t have experience moving after being punished like that.
“If the rumors are right,” Thalia said, “Agata doesn’t go after those she considers innocents, it’s part of her code of conduct.”
“So what? Is she so kind of ethical assassin?” I asked, and I realized I sounded a little skeptical.
“Not much different from you then,” Ivan said. “The rest of the world sees you as a merciless killer, but those who know you know that you don’t kill indiscriminately, you go after those you think are beyond salvation, and save those that are innocent.” His words surprised me, because that was something I haven’t considered.
“So what are we going to do with her? She is too dangerous to be let go.” Thalia said.
“But I have to do,” Agata objected, “I have to punish those who sent me after an innocent.”
“I don’t think I can be considered an innocent,” I tried not to laugh at such absurdity. “To the rest of the world, I’m a monster, a demon, a heartless killer able to kill without remorse anyone who crosses my path. And they are partly right. You can’t punish people for believing the same thing you believed. For thinking what I wanted them to think.”
“But they are your enemies, allow me to kill them in your name.”
“Who sent you?”
“I was hired by most of the Representatives of the Technology Council,” she said without hesitation. I shouldn’t have been surprised, most of them believed that I had killed their loved ones. They might not have been dead in reality, but they believed they were. I had taken them away and made them believe they were lost forever.
“Then they are innocents, you can’t blame them after what I did to them, not when you believed that I was guilty and deserved to die.”
“But I made a mistake, I saw you, I watched your memories, and you are not the monster you appear to be, you are a noble person, someone willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good. Even if I give you my life, even if I swear to serve you it wouldn’t be enough to pay for my mistake.”
“Open your mind,” I asked, and I felt her mental barriers going down as soon as I asked. Her words felt sincere, but her fervor seemed over the top. I couldn’t believe she was so affected by knowing the truth about my actions, not being a hired assassin. I needed to understand her better.
Even with her defenses down, it was hard to reach her mind, and I knew that I was going to spend the last of my strength going through her mind. Her mental landscape was depressive, the sky was cloudy and stormy and the ground was filled with rows of headstones and a few mausoleums, creating an endless cementery. I went close to one of the headstones and I could see the memories playing there, all of them containing her memories of a person. Later I found that the mausoleums had her memories of places or situations.
Just like with Yoweri, Agata’s powers had reached their extreme manifestation out of pain and suffering during her life. The pain of watching everything we loved going out in flames had filled her with anger and pain, poisoning her spirit, and that poison had permeated her powers, making it a weapon capable of destroying everything it touched. Just like Yoweri, her power had been crafted by pain and fury, becoming both her salvation and damnation. Agata was a good person that had been forced by circumstances to do bad things, that later forced her to a life she never wanted.
She really thought of herself as judge, jury and executioner, because she thought that by freeing the world of bad people, she could save other people from going through the same pain she had suffered. Her actions were something most people didn’t approve or even understood, but it was what she believed in, her effort to make the world a better place. Like Yoweri, she had lost her way when she let herself be influenced by the wrong people, letting herself be convinced that all she could do, all she was good at, was killing.
I got out of her mind, finally understanding that attacking me was really affecting her. She had betrayed her beliefs, and that was tearing her apart. Her code of conduct was the base upon which her whole being was built, and it was breaking because she had broken it. I knew she wouldn’t be in peace until she could find a way of redeeming herself.
“You have a very powerful mind, with a lot of potential. If you can learn to leave apart the destructive part of it, you could be very helpful to our cause. Could you do that? Could you leave behind who you are now, an assassin, and become a warrior?”
“I will do whatever you ask me to do, I will follow wherever you go. And not just because I owe you, but because I believe in what you are trying to do. If I could, I would have destroyed the Dominion already, but I can’t. You have a good chance of doing it,” she said, with complete faith. I was sure she was going to be a very valuable ally.
“Then you will come with me to a place where you can learn everything you will need.”
I knew that I needed to go to Kimball, I needed some rest, needed to center myself. But especially, I needed his strength, his support, I needed him to pick me up and remind me why we were doing what we were doing, to remind me that the pain was worth it, because it would take us closer to our victory.