The Last Tritan Ch. 11byWaterBurn©
Welcome back! I'm sorry this took longer than I thought it would (getting of hearing that yet??) I just wanted to quickly thank my team (FA_JF, LBGrant, Jennyb2492, and SP... in no particular order). I'm so dependant on these ladies that it wouldn't be out of the question for them to list me on their tax forms...
And without further adoooooooo..... Chapter 11!!
"I want blood."
A chilling silence filled the room for the space of three heart beats—and then, Lieutenant General Killion Hastings started to laugh, his mirth cruel and unforgiving in light of the tension in the room. "Don't be absurd Tyra. Losing a single Priestess is a tragedy." He stroked a single, long finger down her cheek. "I won't entertain the thought of voluntarily killing any of them, regardless of the crimes they commit."
"How can you say that?" she cried, clutching at his formal jacket with desperate fingers. "Murder is an offense punishable by—"
"You've had a terribly difficult day, Tyra," he soothed, and turned to face the Elites. "There's absolutely no proof the late Head Priestess killed anyone. And as far as I can tell, the whole mess was a terrible accident."
"Well of course it was, you foolish woman. His weapon must have misfired." He paused to chuckle, making pointed eye contact with several Elites who happened to know the opposite to be true. My Chains sprang to life, my jaw snapping closed as the captain prevented me from speaking. "Priestesses simply don't have offensive capabilities. It's what makes them such perfect counterparts to our own gifts."
"Killion I swear to—"
Again, he interrupted her with an abrupt wave of his hand. "You're in shock my dear Mrs. Tilcot, and I think it's past time that you get some rest." He nodded at Marco who approached warily, the distinct outline of a handprint raised on his cheek.
"Get your filthy hands off me!" she screeched, taking a clumsy swing at Marco's face. He easily caught her wrist and wrapped his arms around her, grimacing as she wailed at the top of her voice. "This isn't over, Killion," she declared, filling my head with the rage of a lunatic.
"I'll make arrangements to meet with you in private," he replied, seeming to misinterpret the meaning of her words. She began uttering a string of horrific curses as Marco literally dragged her from the room. The lieutenant general continued speaking as if he hadn't noticed her rather unladylike outburst. "That will be all Mrs. Tilcot."
Frozen by the Chains, I watched as they left but couldn't repress the uneasy tingle as it ran down my spine—there was a woman with an agenda, if I'd ever seen one. And it appeared the Elites were developing a nasty habit of discounting what a woman was capable of, regardless if she happened to be Caledonian or not. Normally, I'd be thrilled Tyra's eyes were filled with murder and I'd try to bend it to my will. But this felt... dangerous, in a way I'd never encountered. If a Mountain Lion was stalking you through the forest, it wasn't malicious, nor was it personal. The big cat was merely hungry, and you probably looked and smelled a lot like dinner. But Tyra had been frothing at the mouth, possessed by a rage that entirely bypassed rational thought and went straight to bloodthirsty maniac. And she'd been looking directly at me.
"Now," the lieutenant general said, stopping in front of the gathered Priestesses. "What are we going to do with the lot of you? Killing you obviously isn't an option." Carly placed a delicate, comforting hand on my arm, but I flinched away, ever uncomfortable with the contact others seemed to crave.
"I'd imagine anything other than a public punishment will be met with outrage," said an Elite located at the back of the room.
"Yes, but there's our reputation to consider!" This, from a man standing directly in front of me, his eyes glued to Carly's beautiful face. "A public punishment would give the impression that we aren't in complete control of our slaves."
Colonel Viridien snorted. "We can't have that, now can we?"
"No, Conrad, we certainly cannot." The lieutenant general began pacing, his arms crossed over his chest, brow furrowed in concentration. "Appearances are everything these days."
"And what of the public opinion, sir?" asked the same man from the back of the room. "This is starting to feel a lot like rebellion."
The lieutenant general stopped and turned to face the dozen or so Elites gathered before him. "And I won't push things further by creating a spectacle of our Priestesses. Are we not the ruling class of the great and powerful Caledonia? Don't the citizens follow the rules we lay out, or suffer the consequences we decide upon?" He paused to survey his Elites, a confident tilt upon his lips. "We were born with the power of rule, gentlemen, and as such, each of you shall decide upon an appropriate punishment for your slaves. The day someone tells me how I should punish my disrespectful slave is a dark day indeed." He gestured at an older Priestess, who immediately separated herself from the crowd. "But I want a detailed report of their punishment on my desk by the end of the week. Dismissed."
The Elites stepped forward, each man claiming his Priestess before they evacuated the room—no doubt the Caledonian dogs were excited at the prospect of punishing their slaves.
Asher's hand settled on my forearm, his expression stony. "Come along Mila. You and I are going to have a little conversation." I nodded, and swallowed hard. I'd put myself in this position, and knew there would be consequences for my actions. But I still wasn't sorry. He guided me to the front door, his hand unforgiving on my shoulder.
"Hold on, Captain Rawlings," the lieutenant general called in his hypnotic voice. "We've got a meeting."
"Ah, yes. I forgot. My apologies," Asher said, spinning me around, his grip tightening unconsciously on my shoulder.
"Not to worry, it's been a rather dramatic evening, hasn't it?"
Colonel Viridian chuckled. "Now that's an understatement."
"Have a seat," the lieutenant general said, motioning at a large dining room table. The captain didn't hesitate to pull out a chair and sit down—but I did. While seating myself at the table as an equal would be a good opportunity to turn my nose up at their stupid cultural rules, I couldn't help wondering if I'd already pushed my luck too far today? Shouldn't I remain standing quietly behind the captain, like a good little slave?
But then again, what did I have to lose? I was already in trouble for my part in the funeral pyre and was presumably about to be interrogated for any information I might have about the late Head Priestesses' motivations for killing the general.
"Mila," the captain hissed, his anger clear in the hard line of his mouth.
"Well aren't you a bold little thing? No, Captain Rawlings, she's fine," the lieutenant general said, waiving the captain off and taking a seat directly across from me. "I have a few questions for you, Priestess." I stared back at him, trying to keep my Empathy in check while bracing for hard questions I couldn't answer. "You spent a lot of time with Sasha before her death, correct?"
I ground my teeth. "Yes."
He smiled, and touched my hand, which I promptly jerked away. "I'm very sorry for your loss. Her death must have been a terrible shock for you, especially considering the stress you're under... er... adjusting to your new life." While his tone spoke of understanding and patience, I was immediately suspicious, refusing to be wooed by his sympathies—this was nothing more than a ploy to gain my confidence. But what if I played along? What if I let the lieutenant general see my fear and think he had me cornered?
Tears pooled in my eyes. "I just can't believe she's gone," I replied in a quiet voice, allowing thoughts of Sasha fill my head. "And the general's wife blaming her for everything... it just doesn't make sense." I sniffled, and wiped at my eyes, fixing my gaze on my lap.
"Tyra's got a rough road ahead of her," the lieutenant general soothed. "And this is just protocol, you see, but I have to ask if there might be some truth behind Tyra's words?"
My eyes flew to his and I blinked, tilting my head to the side. "Truth, sir?"
"Did Sasha tell you how she did it? Killed the general, that is." My mind raced, as I tried to remember what I might have said while semi-conscious after the riot. A good lie was based on truth and consistency, after all, and I needed to do this right. My hesitation prompted the lieutenant general to continue, tenting his fingers beneath his chin. "I realize you're the last person who'd want to help us, after everything you've been through, but just think what this could mean for your fellow Priestesses. Think of the history and knowledge that would be lost to future generations if your sisters learned to do what Sasha did."
The history that would be lost? How about the years of war and slavery the Caledonians had inflicted on this continent, the cultures they'd destroyed and the lives they'd ruined? He sure wasn't making it easy to play the terrified, compliant slave. "She..." I scrunched my nose in concentration, worrying my lower lip, the very picture of youthful innocence. "She mentioned something about a wall. But I don't know what she was talking about. And she... she died before I could ask her." I choked back a sob, and hid my face behind trembling hands... to conceal dry eyes.
"Breathe pet," the captain murmured soothingly, stroking the back of my neck, portraying the outward appearance of 'concerned Master'—while his suspicion beat at me like a drum. It seemed he wasn't fooled by my innocent act, though for now, he was content to play along.
"Did Sasha give you anything before she... passed on? Something to help with your training, perhaps?" The lieutenant general's voice was as gentle as a summer breeze and I had to repress the urge to giggle. We'd arrived at the purpose for this interrogation rather abruptly, and he hadn't bothered to sugar-coat his question past, 'befriend crying female.'
"No sir," I whispered, and twisted my hands in my lap, looking to the captain for reassurance. "Why would she give me anything? I'd only spent a few hours with her in total. Surely not enough time to make any sort of lasting impression."
The lieutenant general frowned and the captain squeezed the back of my neck in warning. Perhaps I was laying it on a little thick... "It may be as insignificant as a slip of paper, or an item she wanted you to have. Think Mila, you need to be sure. The lives of your fellow Priestesses depend on it."
I found his doomsday tone comical but I swallowed my pithy retort for the sake of the unopened box I had stashed beneath the captain's desk. "No sir. I haven't seen any gift from Sasha."
He regarded me for a moment longer, his dark eyes trying to see past my simpering exterior, seeking the wild Priestess he'd no doubt heard rumors about. I lowered my eyes and leaned into the captain's shoulder—my best impression of submission. "Very well, Mila. Your cooperation has been most welcome, if a little unexpected," he said and produced a manila file, unfolding it on the table before him. "Now, Captain Rawlings. I'm merely filling in until the Capital send a new general north," he paused, eyes dancing over the words before him. "But from what I see, you've got a rather impressive record with both the Northern and Western branches."
Asher nodded slowly, confusion scrawled across his handsome face. "I spent six months in the West before I was sent North, sir."
The lieutenant general's eyebrows rose and he regarded the file before him again. "That's no small feat, son. The Empire thanks you for your dedication, I'm sure. But..." His flicked toward me and he continued to read from the file. "What am I reading here? You're unable to use your weapons without harming your Priestess? Can you explain this?"
The captain cleared his throat and leaned forward in his chair. "Yes sir, that's why she was being trained by the Head Priestess." He stroked my hair, conscious of the elegant coil cascading over my shoulder. "From my understanding, Mila's gifts went unnoticed before Tritan fell." While that wasn't entirely true, I held my tongue, not wanting to acknowledge my father's possibly selfish political ambitions. "And then she spent five years on the run, where I imagine learning to control her gifts was secondary to causing as much trouble as possible for the slavers."
"Ah yes, we heard about the Wood's Menace, even in the Capital." I seethed as the men laughed—I'd lost count of the refugees whom I'd given a second chance, and the slavers I'd incapacitated in the process. None of them had been laughing after I'd finished with them.
"Sasha had expressed concern that Mila wouldn't be able to handle the strain of battle," Asher replied, and I nearly choked on a hysterical laugh. 'The strain of battle' indeed! I'd nearly died when he'd taken a shot at the rebels... but if Asher had some reason to make light of my condition, who was I to stop him?
"Forgive my ignorance, but what you're describing bares a rather striking resemblance to the way Sasha herself died."
"Except for the fact that Sasha was the most gifted Priestess we had, sir," Asher countered. "I'd imagine she knew things the other Priestesses could only begin to imagine."
The lieutenant general cursed. "We don't have nearly enough information to be sure about any of this!"
"And the only one who could have answered our questions, killed herself," the colonel said, speaking for the first time since the meeting had begun.
The Elites were silent for a few minutes, each man considering the situation as I wondered idly why they didn't seem concerned with divulging their secrets in front of me. I'd repeatedly demonstrated my willingness to fight their system, at any cost. I chalked it up to arrogance and hoped it would be the key to their downfall. "Anyway captain," the lieutenant general continued. "There isn't exactly a place for an... impotent Elite at the forefront of battle. You'd be a liability," he said kindly, closing the file. "It pains me to say it, especially considering your exemplary record, but unless something has changed over the last few days, your services might be more useful back in the capital."
Asher smirked and activated my Chains, forcing my jaws closed. "And if I told you Mila was able to learn enough of the basics before Sasha's death, sir?"
"Well, that would change everything captain," the lieutenant general replied, leaning forward with interest, apparently failing to notice the way my veins pulsed with molten gold.
"The simple fact that Mila is still breathing, is testimony enough that she's learned to protect herself."
The captain looked to me, his lips twitching as I used my Empathy to send him a wave of cold fury. "She was with Sasha when she died, sir, and we made it through the riot mostly unscathed."
"You fired your weapon?" the lieutenant asked sharply.
Sensing danger, Asher bowed his head in sadness. "I did." Of course, I couldn't be sure of anything that had happened during the chaos of the riot, but I was reasonably certain the captain wouldn't have dared to fire a shot. Not with me clinging to life by a thread, and not after he'd nearly died himself to separate me from Sasha's flickering spirit. Asher was lying.
The lieutenant general sighed, crossing his hands over his chest. "Well, that can't be helped now can it? At least we can assume you can use your weapons without fear, correct?" Asher nodded, a smile curving his full lips. "Then this is welcome news!" He reopened the file and began scribbling as fast as he could, excitement pouring off him in waves. "It's far easier to promote from within the ranks than it is to bring someone in, after all. You've got intimate knowledge of the territory and the loyalty of your men. Invaluable, really."
The captain sat forward, eyes gleaming. "What are you saying sir?"
Colonel Viridian smiled and said, "There's been a recent opening in the ranks, hasn't there? And our Elite force is limited by the availability of the men."
"How does Major Asher Rawlings sound to you?" the lieutenant general asked, a confident smile on his face.
The captain--or rather, major--stood, his hand extended. "It sounds amazing, sir. Thank you."
They shook hands. "Fantastic! Then it's settled. There will be a brief ceremony tomorrow to make it official, where the Curator will present both you and Colonel Viridian with the badges of your new rank, and then we'll celebrate with dinner."
"Ah, colonel," Asher said in a warm voice. "Am I to understand congratulations are in order for you as well?"
The colonel smiled, and took Asher's offered hand. "As of tomorrow, it will be Brigadier General Viridian to you, son."
"And I won't soon forget it," Asher quipped, slapping his superior on the shoulder.
The lieutenant general stood, and headed toward the door. "That will be all for today, gentlemen." He returned their salutes. "I'll see you tomorrow. Oh, and don't forget about that report. We wouldn't want our Priestesses getting the idea they can get away with a stunt like that, would we?"
"No sir, we certainly wouldn't," the soon-to-be major replied, his eyes burning into me.
The colonel smirked and rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Yes, about that. I'd better collect my girl." He left the room without looking back.
Asher released me from the Chains as soon as we were alone, standing directly behind me. "So," he said, and pulled my chair back from the table. "You're quite the accomplished little liar, aren't you pet?"
"Speak for yourself," I snapped, shaking off his touch. "And will you stop calling me that?" He pulled me to him, pressing his groin into my backside. "Why are you complaining anyway? I got us out of trouble,and you got a promotion because of it. You should be thanking me captain."
He snorted. "You got yourself into trouble Mila. And it's major now, didn't you hear?" he asked, placing his hand on my shoulder and guiding me toward the door.
"It's not official until tomorrow," I retorted, and pushed the door open, hesitating when we entered a hall I'd never seen before. Tyra was still roaming these halls after all, and the look in her eyes was not something I'd soon forget.
"The ceremony is only a formality."
"Well, either way I don't envy you, major."
He turned to the right, opened yet another door and ushered me through it. "Oh? Considering the trouble you're in right now, please Mila, do explain."
I swallowed the sudden urge to run from him as fast as I could and said, "I don't recall telling you I'd learned to protect myself."
"And yet my logic stands. You survived Sasha's death and the riot, my dear. It appears the late Head Priestess' fears were unfounded."
"That's a bold assumption, considering it could very well mean both of our lives if you're wrong." In spite of my ominous words, a half-smile curved my lips and I turned my head to face him, still moving through the mansion. "Sasha's last act, Major Rawlings," I said, and touched his chest. "Was to shield me from her death."
"What are you saying?"
"Just that I'm a hopelessly terrible Priestess. I think Sasha used the word, 'abysmal', but I don't know for sure."
He frowned, and captured my wrist, halting our progress. "Are you forgetting I was there beside you, Mila? I know how close you came to following her." He touched my lips, causing my heart to hammer traitorously in my chest. "It was me who dragged you back from the brink, my wild little Priestess. And I can do it again."
I tried to pull away, knowing I was losing this confrontation. His grip only tightened. "Are you willing to bet your life on something so intangible?"