Friday, February 25, 2011

Chapter 57 - THE PROPOSAL

A few weeks later, the emperor called me on the phone. “Captain Haines tells me he thinks you may be one of my most loyal citizens. Is this so?”

“Ah . . . . I’d certainly like to think so. You have always treated me fairly and you were good to my parents. Why?”

“I’m going to send the captain over directly. He’ll explain everything.” He hung up without customary civilities and I was left hanging with more than my share of curiosity.

When Haines arrived an hour later, he took me out into the courtyard to talk. “As I’m sure you must know, the emperor, being who and what he is, his life is in constant danger from assassination. Of all the people close to him, I think he honestly likes you. You have always been plainly honest and forthcoming in answering all of his questions, and you speak to him as if he was just another man, although not without respect. He seems to like that, from you anyway. At any rate, he wants you to take a position as his personal guard. Your assignments will be so that you will be at his elbow, or close to him, all the time, and you will use your magic to protect him. Can you handle that kind of thing?”

“I can, but you, and he, should know that after I expend a great deal of magic, I must rest - eat and rest. I think I can guard him like you ask, but this is a weakness of mine you both should know about.”

“Are you saying that this could take you out at some critical moment?”

“I don’t believe so. To date, I’ve always been able to deal with a situation until it was over and I could leave it. That’s when I shut down. Sometimes I’m only real hungry and a night’s sleep will do; other times, I’ll crash for days and someone must wake me and make me eat, but that’s only if I use a whole lot of magic. What is it I’m expected to do with my magic?”

“All right then, I’ll be sure and explain that to the emperor; what you’ll be expected to do is run interference between the emperor and his environment, be it people, items or food, whatever he comes in contact with. The attempts on his life have intensified lately and they have been getting very close. We think the person behind it all may be someone close to the emperor, but we can’t figure out who it may be. Perhaps you can help us with this mystery.”

How can one possibly say not to one's emperor? “When do we start?”

“I knew you would accept. I brought your uniform with me. You can start immediately. The highest rank I can start you with is sergeant; anything lower than that and you wouldn’t be that close to the emperor.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chapter 56 - SECLUSION

Two days later, very late in the day, Captain Haines and two of the men who had been my guards during my stay at the palace came in with chains and a hood. I was taken to an electric car. I wondered what excuse they’d used for spiriting me away. Judging from all the chains, maybe I was going to my execution.

Once we were in the car the chains and hood were taken away. The windows were so darkly tinted; it looked like night outside. I had to ask, “Where are you taking me?”

“For your safety, we are taking you to a hiding place,” said Haines.

“But we walked right past the guards.”

“By the time whoever tried to poison you figures out that you’re not where you’re supposed to be, you’ll be securely hidden away.”

“There’s a paper trail to follow? If you’d said something it could have been done much cleaner.”

Haines turned around in his seat to look at me. “How so?”

“The easiest thing I could have done was make another opening through the back wall and walk out that way, but I could also cause a guard to be distracted or fall asleep, or I could dress in the appropriate uniform and change the color of my hair or whatever. I could have walked out of that cell in broad daylight and they wouldn’t notice anything as long as I didn’t have to discuss current affairs with the guard.

“Are you telling me that you could have walked past us any time you wanted to?” protested one of the guards. “Why were we guarding your door all that time? You didn’t do your magic thing on us, did you?”

“No,” I laughed. “I was a good boy. You all wanted me to stay in my room, so I stayed in my room.”

They took me to a walled compound at another location in the city where we were greeted by two more men I recognized. “This place was the home of the Imperial Mother until she died,” said Haines. “It’s been empty for four years now and no one but the emperor and us knows that you are here. You will remain here and do your schoolwork. I’m not sure what the emperor has in mind for you, but for now, this is where you will live. There is little if anything here, so I will arrange for supplies to be sent . . . .”

“Don’t bother with supplies. If you start sending supplies here, someone will find out; and with me spirited away from detention, someone will put it all together.”

Haines looked at me for a moment, but his question was asked by one of the other men. “You’re going to feed us without any supplies; how are you going to do that?”

I handed the man an apple. “Like that.”

He accepted the apple hesitantly and said no more. Haines only nodded and turned to leave. “I’ll be back from time to time.” I saw him to the door and before he left completely he turned to me and said, “I’ll bring you a phone next time I come. It’ll be connected through the palace so no one will be able to trace it here. I know you’ll want to keep in touch with your parents.”

I remained there for eighteen months. I did my schoolwork almost non-stop accomplishing three days of work in one day most of the time. What else did I have to do? I ran the perimeter of the compound wall to my heart’s content and lifted improvised weights every day too. In the winter, I kept the place warm, but with fireplaces in every room, my guards wanted to use firewood, so I made it and lit it wherever they wanted.

Meals started out with a meeting where it was decided what I would make for that meal. If we could figure out how it was made, that’s what we had. It took a while for them to get used to me making their meals, but they soon grew to like it.

I did a few other things too, but it was mostly small things like cleaning their clothes or replacing a button. I took to wearing my leathers again almost immediately.

Brian saw the tattoo on my arm and he decided he wanted one too. I gave him one of an eagle on his shoulder. When conversation turned to other tattoos, it was discovered that Leonard had an old girlfriend’s name tattooed in a rather sensitive place. He wanted it removed, but was too embarrassed to have it done. There was a good deal of teasing and laughter, but later that night, I went to his room and removed it for him. I don’t think he’ll ever get another tattoo there. Not if his life depended on it.

Haines came by about once a week and for my nineteenth birthday he brought my birthday presents. Mom and dad sent me a photograph of all of my friends back home; it made me homesick. Haines had it framed. Colin sent me a card with a letter telling me about all the new things in his life; he sounded so happy. The emperor sent me a nasty little weapon. Haines showed me how to wear it. It had rings that fit on all four of my fingers with two rings per finger. These were connected to each other by fine flex-steel bands across the back of my knuckles and were connected to a wristband that covered half of my arm to the elbow. He had it made to resemble the dragon on my other hand though he got the tail all wrong (it was cool though). On the palm sides of all the rings, were tiny sharp needles that looked something like cat’s claws. Haines said that it was made to deliver poisons but that wasn’t necessary; a slap would lay open someone’s face rather thoroughly. Why would the emperor send me something like this? I liked the way it looked though, so I made the ‘claws’ go away and wore it most of the time.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chapter 55 - SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

An unknown number of stun shots later, I found myself puking in a toilet in the corner of a tiny six by six cell with no window and only a small viewing grate in the door to see out of. Course, it was used by the guards to see in far more than I bothered to use it to see out of. There was also a little shelved slot for my tray of food when it came.

My magic kept me functional, but the effects of the stun shots were brutal. I had the dry heaves and the cold sweats for at least an hour after they locked the door. Should I teach them what doors were made out of? No, I had hurt someone; I would take my punishment.

The stun shots had caused me to use my magic. It was a relief, so when my lunch came I ate it gratefully. I had scarcely eaten all week. Then I slept the rest of the day. Briefly, I wondered if my lessons would continue while I was here.

I needn’t have worried. My books and assignments came and went without the teachers. Art and P.E. were temporarily canceled though I did my P.E. myself with my own twist. I did my full range of exercises and then I did my sword dance; and here’s the twist. Since they would never consider allowing me my sword, I made an insubstantial one out of water and allowed it to splash against the walls since the room was too small for anything that might resemble a full swing. Even though the water sword splashed apart when it hit something, I made the water reassemble wherever there was enough room for it.

Shortly before I was ready to finish, I noticed a face framed in the viewing grate. I made the water go away and stood back from the door. “All right, all right, I’ll stop, but I can’t just turn it off.”

The face moved away from the grate and the door opened. “Liam McTavish,” said the guard who stepped into the room. “My name is Captain Patrick Haines. I’m captain of the emperor’s personal guard. From now on any communication between you and the emperor will be done through me.”

Well, that wouldn’t be a very hard job. There hadn’t been very much communication between the emperor and me, but I didn’t say anything. I nodded and waited to hear what else he had to say.

“I’d like an explanation for what happened.”

“I’ve been thinking about it some. I guess you could say that my using magic is like my needing to breathe; there’s only so long I can hold my breath. Mr. Oliver pissed me off and I lashed out. Is he all right?”

“Yes, he is, but he claims you did some pretty unusual things to him, yet there’s no evidence of anything. What did you do?”

I backed up into a corner and sat down on the floor. “I welded his teeth together to shut him up and then I set his feet on fire. I tried to make it all right before they took him out of the room, but I was kind of groggy.”

“So, he was telling the truth. I’ve seen the videos and I watched you here. You told the emperor that you control matter. I’m curious why the stuns didn’t seem to work.”

“Drugs don’t work either. My magic sees to it. It’s an instinct thing; I can’t do anything about it. As far as drugs go, I found out that the more a drug is used on me the less effect it has; it’s like my magic learns. When the baron had me kidnapped, I was supposed to be drugged senseless for the whole trip. I know this because they kept shooting me up.”

“How is it your captors never found out?”

“I was trying to find my parents. The only thing I could find out about them was that they had boarded that flight; they were listed on the passenger list when they boarded but they were not on the list when they left the ship; the crew never missed them. My thought was that if these were the same people who took my parents, I should end up in the same place. I had to play along. If I didn’t, who knows what they might have done and I would be no wiser about my parents.”

“You didn’t use your magic for weeks then. Why can’t you do the same now?”

The two weeks in that box, though I was bored out of my skull, were easy as far as my magic was concerned. It constantly had to fight off the drugs they pumped into me and it helped me breathe some. It was the other four weeks that were hard, though I managed to find little ways to work off the tension. I spent a lot of time in the weight room.”

“How did that help? It didn’t seem to help much here.”

“I used my magic to help me lift the weights. I didn’t think of doing that here. Then I found out that the emperor didn’t want me to use any magic, so I tried. I can’t do it. Like I said before; it’s like breathing, there’s only so long I can hold my breath.”

Our conversation was interrupted by a rattling at the door. The little trap door opened and my tray slid into view. The captain rose to retrieve the tray.

“No. Please, allow me. Would you like to join me?” I asked. Without moving from my corner, I remade the tray and its contents in my lap, though I changed the contents to something I liked better.

Though amazed, he looked back at the shelf. “What’s this?” He traced his finger through a fine white powder sprinkled on the shelf like a little too much dust or perhaps flour.

I set my tray down on the bed and got up to see. I had remade my meal in order to move it and this was left behind. I touched his hand and looked at his finger closer, and then I knew. “Poison.”

He started to pull his hand away. I suppose he was going to wipe his finger off, but I held it. “Hold still. It has already begun some of its work on you.” I went into his blood and cleansed the poison from it. It took only a couple moments and then I released his hand.

I doubt he felt anything other than my grip, but he could see the white powder vanish from the end of his finger. “How did you do that?” he asked me as he examined his finger closer after I released his hand.

“Even poison is made of matter. I took the matter that was my food and its tray and remade it over there where I was sitting; the poison got left behind.” I looked at the dusted shelf. “It looks like it was in almost everything.”

He looked again at the powder on the shelf and over at my tray. You could almost see the outline of my plate, my dessert dish and my fruit cup. “If drugs don’t work on you; will poison kill you?”

“I don’t know. I suppose if it worked fast enough it might.”

Captain Haines looked back at the powder and then looked up at a corner in the ceiling. “Inform the emperor immediately and then send a specialist down here to take samples. I want to know what kind of poison this is and where it came from.” Then he turned to me. “Eat your supper and I want you to . . . remake everything you eat or drink. You are not going to die on my watch.”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chapter 54 - MAGIC UNUSED

By the end of the first week, I was beginning to feel bottled up. It was fortunate that I finished my homework on Saturday because by Sunday, I could hardly sit still. I asked my guards if we could go for a run. They made me stop after four miles; it wasn’t helping anyway, so I hit the weight room. I used all the apparatuses until my muscles burned. The manager finally made me quit that too, fearing I might hurt myself. He was probably right, but I didn’t think I could do much damage to myself that way.

On the way home, I succeeded in talking one of the guards into crossing swords with me in the hallway outside my room. At first, it was fun and even a little exhilarating, but my edginess soon took the fun out of it, as I began to play a little too hard. The man had half again my weight and a few inches reach on me, but more than once I was able to press my attack too close for his comfort.

Then I decided to do something I hadn’t done since my first few weeks of lessons under Tsan. I conjured fire around my blade and held it there. The very act was like a balm on a burn. Spending magic in this way, holding flames around my blade without letting the metal get hot, was meticulous magic and it felt so good to be doing it.

My guards, however, weren’t nearly so pleased with my endeavor. They both drew their stun guns and leveled them at me. “Stop that right now,” said one.

I did. “Why? I’m not going to use it on you. I just needed to flex a bit. If it got too hot for you, I was going to shield you from the heat.”

“Emperor’s orders. You’re not supposed to use . . . magic.”

“I’m not? Why? I’m not dangerous. You should know that by now.”

“We know nothing of the sort. Put your sword away and go into your room.”

“You could have told me, you know,” I said before I closed my door. I was angry. I paced my room. Why would the emperor want me to stop using my magic? That was a stupid question; I knew why, he didn’t want me to be dangerous. He was afraid he couldn’t control me. I had news for him; he couldn’t control me. I had enough trouble with that myself.

But, he was my emperor. If he didn’t want me to use magic, I would do my best to comply with his wishes. I paced my room some more; in fact I hadn’t stopped yet. I sat down and tried to read one of my assignments and found that I had difficulty understanding it and had to read it again. Then I stuck my head out of my room again. I was greeted by the wary expressions of my two guards. “I want to go running again.”

Their expressions turned dubious. It must be near dinnertime, but I hadn’t looked at the clock. “You ran four miles this morning; you don’t need to run again.”

“Come on guys, this is hard for me. I need to do something.” I was almost ready to start pleading.

They let me run two miles this time, but it helped even less than this morning’s run had. On the way back to my room, I felt like I was walking with my shoulders hunched and my hackles up. It was a strange and dangerous feeling.

At my door, before entering my room, I said, “I’m sure you report to the emperor. Tell him that I don’t think I can do this, but I’ll try my best.”

My supper was waiting for me on the table, but though I picked at it, I couldn’t eat it.

I did better than I thought I would at the time. I didn’t think I would make it through the next day, but I actually made it all the way through until English class on Thursday morning. I’m not even sure what it was that set me off; some snide remark about my penmanship I think. He was always saying something about that, since he seemed to be unable to find anything else to complain about. First, I welded his teeth together so he couldn’t talk anymore, then I set his feet on fire.

Three stun blasts later, and I was huddled in a corner barely conscious of my surroundings. I had enough sense though, to undo the damage before they took him out of the room. I almost had enough sense to regret my actions, but I figured I didn’t like him enough for that.

After he was gone, the guards came back into my room. They saw I was still conscious, though barely, and aimed their stun guns at me again. I tried to tell them that if it hadn’t worked yet it wouldn’t, but they figured it out soon enough, and getting my tongue wrapped around words just then, was quite a challenge.