As she get older, Faustina is becoming a harder person. Her exploits in the old Deep South had that area fall to her with only limited opposition. While I have only heard rumor of it, her campaign to destroy the forces around the old imperial capital of DC had her angry enough she had to talked out of leveling the city and sowing the ground with salt. It is likely that memory which her son Laszlo and niece Aurelia just ran up against.
I know how this all ends as it is discussed in my forthcoming novel. But, to be in the same room as this decision is made is haunting.
“This was your idea, my niece,” Faustina Hartmann said very quietly. They were in the rearmost part of her tent, far from prying ears. “Your act was disrespectful, stupid, dangerous, and a violation of legionary codes, not to mention the Empress’ orders concerning the safety of her family!”
“Will you not attempt to justify your actions?” the Empress asked. “I am amiable to reason.”
“Me? Beg for mercy? I think not! Let your son do that!”
Laszlo saw a muscle just below his mother’s left eye twitch once. Am I going to die? His mother’s bioluminescent turqoise eyes tracked to his bright pale blue and held them.
“Will you?” Her voice a whisper.
“Certainly not!” he shouted just a trifle too loud. He tried again. “This was a great adventure Princess Aurelia proposed. Even a human would have been a fool to turn it down. You keep me cosseted far behind the lines while this girl is already, like you were at her age, already a veteran.”
“I may only be twelve, but, Mother,” he rudely pointed at her, “I can outshoot you and take you in a physical fight. Can I run a battle in my head as you do? No. But when, mother? If not now, when? If not here, where?”
He lowered his hand along with his pulse and blood pressure.
“You two are dismissed. I shall see y’all again after the staff dinner. Neither of you two shall attend.” Her eyes returned to the papers in front of her. The two youngsters raised their hands high in an imperial salute and left in an orderly manner.
Just outside the tent, Aurelia again took his hand, now with no glove.
Is she always like that? With your brothers and sisters?
“What…?” he began.
Hush. Talk like one of us. Your mother invented it but only my mother and I can do it.
Oh. He tightened his grip on her hand as he felt the beginning of a headache.
Everything is all-on or all-off with her. She leaves us completely alone until she demands one hundred percent of our attention. If she ever asks ‘how was your day?’ you damn well better answer completely.
My mom and I like to sit and dream together. She felt the sob through his hand. I’m sorry, Les.
No, I’m fine. I’ve never wanted for anything, so I cannot complain. After all, were I human I would have lost track of all the fun things my dad did with me. I think he saw us kids alone the more mother became Empress. He was always there for us.
His death was a tragedy.
He was an outdoorsman and died hiking. Unlike his wife and children, I’m sure he is skating right through Purgatory… ow…
“I’m sorry, Les,” Aurie leaned over to whisper. She still held his hand but broke their minds’ contact. “It takes getting used to. Just like the Void.”
“Or putting up with Cousin Reina?” he laughed, blinking away tears from the pounding in his head. “Did you want to get something to eat?”
“Yes, but let me check in with my legate first, please. A moment.” She grew still in the midst of the camp and Laszlo watched her gold eyes shine bright in the evening twilight. “All’s well! Food!”
It was 2300, after their meal and final evening briefing when the two were admitted to the Empress’ presence. This time in her private office just one tarp curtain removed from the room they had been in earlier. After she returned their salutes and waited while her son poured water for them all, Faustina turned on the tiny wifi broadcaster on the table before them.
“My legates agree with me,” she surprised them by speaking rather than mind-to-mind in the Void. “The army begins to withdraw in the morning. We will break contact with the St. Louis forces and be nearly twenty-five miles south, across the Kaskaskia River, by this time tomorrow.”
Laszlo was stunned. Aurelia, a veteran, even more so.
“Why?” Les cried. “We’re winning!”
“Winning what, first son?” his mother curled her lips at him. “We’ve blooded the noses of one of their three armies and pushed them back into East St. Louis with two regiments in Belleville – oh, you didn’t know they were on your right flank when you flounced up that hill some hours ago? So: that means house-to-house fighting to clear first those regiments then to get to the bridges. Niece? What’s the best way to take a bridge?”
“Both ends at once, Empress,” she answered instantly.
“How do we take the other end? We have no organic river-lift capability. I have no paratroops or air assault troops.” She looked from Aurie to Les. “Do my legionaries swim across?”
“The Texans…” Les began, only to look about at where they were.
The two youths were standing next to one another. Across from them, opposite a non-functioning fountain about eight feet in diameter, was Faustina. Under their boots was obsidian and the bushes and trees were all made of colored crystals. The sky was a breathtaking blue.
“Alexandra’s construct,” Laszlo noted. “I’m surprised, if we are discussing war, to not be at one of Fausta’s practice ranges, with her listening in.”
“That’s because we shall be discussing more than war and tribe Tohsaka wanted nothing to do with it,” his mother said. Aurelia began to speak up but the Empress pointed to a map she created, just next to the fountain.
“You see our positions, here, mostly south of East St. Louis. The bulk of the Texan army is here, in the town of St. Clair. Were this a conventional operation, their infantry brigades would be fifteen miles further northeast, in the Castlewood forest, overlooking greater St. Louis from the west,” Faustina talked easily as she highlighted units and positions with her mind.