The emperor’s private quarters were still keyed to my name, but it had been so long that I had nearly forgotten about it, so I was startled awake late one night to hear Connor’s voice raised in desperation. “Liam would never let such a thing happen. Send for the doctor right now.”
“Yes my lord, immediately,” said another voice.
“What happened, Connor?” I asked.
“Who’s that? Liam is that you? Where are you?” asked Connor.
“Yeah, it’s me. What happened?” I asked again.
“Someone managed to get a letter-bomb in here past the guards. Dad’s hurt real bad.”
I extended my magic across the light years and found the emperor lying, shaking in his son’s arms. It only took a little more energy and he was resting quietly. “Let the doctor clean him up. He’ll be all right now.”
“Thank you, Liam. You have no idea how much this means to me.”
“I can hear it in your voice.” I expanded my awareness and tried to figure out how this had happened and discovered that no alarm had been sounded. I sealed the emperor’s apartment and went to my mother.
“Mother, I have to go to the capital. I’ll be in touch.”
“All right dear, I’ll ready a ship.”
I was gone before she finished the sentence. It was foolish, but if I could do it once, I could do it again. I was never so glad for a carpet as my knees met it hard. I was shaking from cold, but I struggled to throw it off as I heard Connor’s voice again. “Liam, how did you get here?”
“Where’s your mother? Are your sisters still here in the apartment?” I asked.
“Yes, father insisted. He says that it’s easier for the guards to protect us if we’re not all scattered out.”
“Good, I need something to eat.” I crawled over to the emperor. He was beginning to come around. I wiped the blood away and helped him sit up. “Get your family together in an inner chamber of this apartment. Your security has been compromised.”
I leaned against the wall as Connor helped his father further into the apartment, then I closed my eyes and extended my magic through the familiar hallways. I found Brian’s flame in his quarters. It was very still, so someone had gotten to him too. “Brian, wake up.”
Connor came over to me and shook my shoulder. “Liam, are you all right?”
“Go back to your father. I’m fine. You’re my last line of defense. Go on.” I was very hungry just now and I really didn’t want him anywhere close to me.
I called out to Brian again and was relieved to feel him stir.
Someone tried to enter the apartment and found the door locked. After a few confused seconds, they started pounding on the door. I looked to see who it was. I didn’t recognize any of them, but that didn’t mean much. Since they never called out, I felt fairly certain they were up to no good, and my suspicions were mostly confirmed when one of them produced a hand-torch and began trying to cut the lock on the door. Still no one moved to sound an alarm.
“Brian, I need to know who these people are, wake up.”
I heard some coughing. “I’m awake, I’m awake,” he said in a muffled voice. He had something over his mouth. I watched him move slowly out into the hallway and lean against the wall.
“Brian, come on. The emperor’s under attack.”
That galvanized him. He pelted down the hall.
“Don’t even try to come here alone,” I warned.
“Obviously I’m not alone. When did you get here?”
“About ten minutes ago and I’m wiped.” I turned my attention back to the man with a torch. He wasn’t having any luck cutting through the door, but I put the torch out just the same.
“Come on. Get that door cut open. The shift will be changing soon and someone will sound the alarm,” said a man who stood looking over his shoulder. The man with the torch relit it and continued to try cutting through the lock.
That was all I needed. These men were out to get the emperor. I wrapped the leader in a rope that also gagged him and hung him from the ceiling, then I blocked their retreat. The man with the torch found himself hanging from his hands, which I imbedded in the ceiling not far from his boss.
That left three more men rattling around the room in a panic. I picked up one of them and pinned him against the door. “Start talking,” I said.
I allowed him to struggle without letting him slip. The others were crowded as far away from him as they could get. All I got out of him was meaningless blubber, which climbed to an equally meaningless squeal when I moved him higher up the door. I suppose I could sympathize with their terror, after all, I wasn’t in the same room with them.
I held him there while I raided the kitchen. I didn’t bother with formal fare; I simply consumed what I came across until I was full.
Brian showed up about fifteen minutes later with thirty some men from the barracks and started pounding on the outer door. “Liam, Liam, are you in there? Open the door.”
“Brian,” I spoke in his ear. “There are five men in there. Two of them are loose. I have the other three secured. As yet, none of them are talking, but I haven’t been asking too many questions.”
“All right, thanks Liam. Thanks for everything. Open the door.”
I did and watched as the two who could, willingly gave themselves into his hands. The one I held against the door had to be carried out of the room. The one hanging from his hands had fainted and had to be carried out too. Someone cut the leader loose and I allowed his bound body to hit the floor.
As soon as order had been restored, Brian knocked on the inner door. “Open up, Liam.”
I saw the emperor leaning on his son standing in the hallway leading to the inner apartment and moved to stand between them and the door I was opening. It was a good thing I did because someone behind Brian opened fire. Brian went down immediately and I took several bullets before my magic shielded me from the rain of led.
I pushed the emperor back out of sight and walked out through the door. I’ve heard the expression about ‘seeing red’ but I had always thought it was just a metaphor, until now. I did see red and as my magic expelled the rounds I had already taken, I walked out into the rain of bullets.
Friend or foe, I didn’t care; if they fired at me, they died, and believe me, there wasn’t much left after I was done with them. I regret to say that it was likely that more than half of them were friendly forces. I can’t say that I blame them. I’m sure they felt much like thoppers being attacked by a basilisk; the only difference was that they were brave enough to stand and fight rather than scatter.
Seven men were left standing by the time bullets stopped flying. The emperor stepped up behind me and rested a hand on my shoulder. “Stand down, Liam.”
The red film cleared from my vision and I swayed. I took a big breath and looked around at the carnage I had wrought, then I turned back to Brian. He had taken three bullets in the back and both of his lungs were compromised. He had his eyes open, but I’m not sure that he saw me. I rested my hand on his chest and wiped the damage away. He closed his eyes with a sigh and slept.
The med-techs arrived minutes later and swarmed over everyone in the room while I stood numbly in the center and watched.
I’m not sure when I shut down. I remember bodies being carried away and I know that the emperor and Brian were also taken away to the infirmary. Guards, emboldened by my stillness, moved around trying to make sense of the chaos. I think I remember Connor calling my name, but I don’t remember falling. Apparently, I hit the corner of the desk with my face and came close to putting my eye out; my face was laid open from my forehead to my cheekbone.