Belesis sprinted toward Hawthorn, nimbly dodging around the rhizomes that shot out of the ground.
“Watch out for the one on your left, it’s growing more appendages, and take it easy; you’re using too much Focus!” Klen screamed. “You haven’t fully regained your Capacity!”
Helena couldn’t help but feel guilty at his words. I’m sure Belesis realizes that, but what can she do, and it’s my fault! Why am I so powerless? Fatchna has enough power to kill me before I even twitch; I’m useless! Booker still calmly examined the scene in front of him, without a word as his eyes followed Belesis.
A gigantic wooden block erupted from the earth around Hawthorn, sprouting thick branches as it reached into the sky. Helena felt dizzy as she appeared at the edge of the forest, three meters from Fatchna, particles dancing around her in strange patterns. The block transformed into a gigantic tree, and large roots expelled from the ground, attacking Belesis.
She danced around the branches, back toward the forest. Helena’s attention darted around her surroundings as all the red maples surrounding the area wilted and died. Hawthorn’s taking shelter inside the tree, and using all of the maples around us as fuel to spur her construction, taking all their nutrients. She doesn’t have to expend as much Focus if she’s redistributing the resources around her; it’s smart.
Belesis reached the dying trees and started using them as supports to leap around from trunk to trunk, cracking and knocking them over in her wake. Roots chased her at a quickening pace as Hawthorn attached new feeds to the surrounding foliage. After breaking down several trees, she made her way back; sliding across the trucks, running her hand across the broken sections and roots in reach, while spitting on others. More Nitroglycerin? Spikes shot out from the rhizomes, but Belesis agilely avoided every projectile.
“Yeah, light on your feet!” Klen yelled and yelped as several spikes darted around him. Hawthorn may be safe, but she’s sacrificing her reaction time. She’s getting closer to catching Belesis, but she’s giving a General level opponent more time to prepare a counter attack.
The broken trees started to shrivel up as the nutrients were sapped from them, and then the newly forming leaves on Hawthorns tree began to wilt, the wood coloring sickly. She must have applied poisons to the roots and with the rapid intake of all the tree’s nutrients; Hawthorn took in all of Belesis’ poison she’s been spreading. Rapidly dispersing it throughout her control feeds, it’s brilliant, yet simple.
Belesis leaped toward the tree and dug her fingers into the dying trunk, ripping into the bark. She began breathing into the hole; mist escaped her mouth and flowing into the pit. A few seconds later, the base of the tree broke, and Hawthorn exited, coughing. She tried to walk but collapsed to the ground. This time it’s over.
Jumping down, Belesis slowly walked over to Hawthorn, who was shaking her head violently and mumbling. “Why am I here—what was I doing before this? Who am I,” she huffed, “I don’t even care.”
Fatchna’s tone was not entertained as he asked. “What did you do to her?”
Belesis’ expression showed deep regret as she studied Hawthorn’s condition. “I sent a dissociative drug in an airborne form into the confines of her shell. She should be experiencing hallucinations, distorted sounds, and undergoing feelings of detachment. The dose will have … harsh lingering effects, but at least she’s free from Phantasm.” Hawthorn started to jerk back and forth as she swayed. Her body seemed to be trying to lie down, but sit up at the same time.
“Can you reverse it?” Fatchna asked with a disgusted expression.
Belesis shook her head with a tragic tone. “I could counter the dose, but it was a concentrated quality. It’ll have adverse effects on cognitive realization … she’ll never be the same, but she may be happier this way.” He should have known better to put a Colonel against a General; even if Hawthorn had the terrain advantage, Belesis has complete control over cellular structure.
Sweat was gathering on Belesis’ brow, and she breathed sharply. She’s reaching her Focus limit. It must be tough on her body to produce and protect against these chemicals. She also has to combine different formulas into compounds. All while trying not to get hurt for my sake … no wonder she’s a General. Not only is she being pushed beyond her limits, while already being low on Focus, but she’s going against her core principles to protect me. She truly hates using her ability for destructive purposes. How much longer can she last?
Fatchna hummed as he examined Hawthorn. “It seems like she’s out of the picture. However, I’m still interested in how you accomplished destroying the tree.” Hawthorn disappeared. Helena breathed a sigh of relief. I don’t know where he sent her, but it was most likely to her death. She was now useless to both him and Phantasm.
Belesis turned to examine the tree’s decay with mournful eyes. The large tree that had protected Hawthorn was rotting rapidly as branches dropped from its trunk. Its leaves and roots withered, dying from some kind of chemical ingestion.
Turning to glare at Fatchna, Belesis swallowed and replied. “I created a combination of pesticides that Hawthorn unknowingly fed through her tree’s nurturing process since she was pretty much blind … a sad mistake on her part, but advantageous for me.” The sweat gathering around her body had increased in a very short amount of time; her dress showed wet spots, and her posture had sagged.
“You don’t seem to be faring well. Are you reaching your Focus limit? I’m a bit disappointed. I’d assume as a General you’d have a greater pool; yet, you’ve used a lot of liquid to create all those pesticides, and your Focus can only take you so far as a Biokinetic.”
“Belesis beat your pawn! What do we do now?” Klen yelled tensely.
“Well—Hawthorn was only a Colonel. It would have been awfully embarrassing if a General lost to her, but are you truly out of Focus?” Fatchna said, leaning into his seat. He studied Belesis for a moment. “Perhaps I have a higher standard. Being a Prime, I have a near unlimited amount of Focus … well; I’ve never actually reached my limit.” He scoffed. Helena shivered at his response. She does have a lot more Focus Capacity … but she’s already used most of it on me. Why did Fatchna and Phantasm have to act now?
Vision shifting to Helena, Belesis’ eyes softened, and she showed a reassuring smile. Seriousness returning, her sight turned to Fatchna; she bowed, prostrating herself on the ground. “I’ll do anything you ask of me, but please let Lady Vandred go. You don’t need her to fight Kara at her best; she’s never afraid to engage an enemy. I believe you know this.”
Fatchna’s face lit up at her action, and he leaned forward in his chair, a curved smile on his face.
“Don’t do that, Belesis.” Klen mumbled, “Kara will be here soon.” Booker narrowed his eyes, and his vision shifted to Fatchna a dark expression on his face. Klen’s composure hardened as he took a step forward, puffing out his chest. “I think we should fight, here and now! We won’t be bullied by a Prime that can’t even fight his own battles!” Blue shimmering gleams danced around Klen; ice started forming over his clothes and skin. He’s creating an armor of crystal, but that won’t help him against Fatchna’s teleportation ability. What does he think we can do? He’s faster than sound for Booker, Belesis seems out of options, and he and I are all but useless. We’re all hostages...
“C’mon Booker, let's show this Prime what the Purists are made of!” Klen said with a grin.
Shifting her vision to Fatchna, she saw a sneer spread across his face as he waved his hand. Helena looked back as a long wicked knife cut out of the crystal armor, right at Klen’s heart, the blade held in Booker’s right hand. Booker was leering down at Klen, the knife sinking deeper into Klen’s back, icy chunks falling to the ground.
Klen’s head turned slowly, confusion crossing his face as he opened his mouth; a gush of blood sliding down his throat, freezing as it touched his armor. He dropped to the ground as the crystal shattered into dust around his body. The blade easily slid from his back, and Booker examined the crimson liquid dripping off the edges.
Belesis’ stared at Booker from her kneeling position, vision shifting to the knife and finally Klen’s unmoving body, the blood spread across his shirt back. “Why?” Belesis asked, beginning to quake. “Did Fatchna—were you—blackmail?”
Booker’s cool eyes lifted to study Belesis as he flipped the blade around his hand, sending blood spraying across the blades of grass. “No, I have nothing to do with Fatchna.”
Belesis’ voice shook. “Then—why?”
Bending down, Booker wiped the blood off the blade with Klen’s pants. “It’s simple, Phantasm ordered it.” Helena felt numb. Why didn’t I see it? There were signs. Why didn’t Kara catch it? His odd bodily reactions I couldn’t recognize … was he trained by Phantasm to escape our reception?
Tears started to leave Belesis’ eyes. “When—haven’t you—with Kara from the start?”
“All in accordance with Phantasm’s orders,” Booker responded with a small grin and a shrug. “It’s been fun leading you on for the past year. I really couldn’t have asked for a better reaction.”
“Why now?” Belesis asked, words stumbling over each other.
“Because—Phantasm found a remarkable link between the Great Lady Vandred—and the Great General Belesis. In the Lass’s treasure trove of a mind, there was quite the bank of information.” He tapped the blade’s hilt lightly against his skull.
Helena found it hard to breathe. Is she connected to me? This was—it’s my mistake … because I didn’t listen to Kara … all of this, it’s my fault? She found herself on the ground, ringing in her head, vision blurred. Blinking rapidly, she covered her ears and shook her head. Right—Booker’s an Echokinetic—sonic waves.
The sounds around her cleared; Booker was already at Belesis. She was dodging his blade dexterously, but not attacking back, a conflicted expression across her face. She has feelings for Booker … he played on that for over a year. There’s no way she could push that psychological state away in an instant. She’s trying to work through her feelings, but she’s slowing down with every movement...
Booker was laughing. “Even when completely exhausted, you’re still as agile as when I first watched you go against Kara.”
His blade cut through tree limbs and roots like butter, but couldn’t find its target. Is he using sound waves to cause vibrations along the edge, sharpening it? Fatchna looked thrilled as he watched Booker chase Belesis around the area. His eyes centered on her pained expression. She can’t fight back, even if Booker is a betrayer and killed Klen.
“Please—stop this, Booker. You don’t—have to follow Phantasm.” Belesis pleaded, even her contrast speech had disappeared in her desperation.
Booker stopped his assaulting strikes and stood still. Belesis halted, panting and clutching at her chest, body quivering. “I do like Kara and how she treats her members,” Booker said with sudden agony flashing across his face. Helena’s brow knit together. Is he being controlled? I—I don’t think so … this has to be a ploy.
A hopeful smile lit Belesis’ lips. “Yes—Kara loves her members—she’ll help you break free from Phantasm … though she’ll be mad.” Helena’s jaw tightened. Her emotions are blinding her! How is this even possible for a Biokinetic?
“Don’t listen to him. He’s lying!” Helena exclaimed.
Concern crossed Belesis’ eyes. “Do you—mean it—Booker?”
“Of course,” Booker said with a sincere smile. “I—I think Phantasm did something to my mind...” I’ll give him that. He’s an expert at faking emotion. There’s not a hint of ill intent in his tone. No wonder Phantasm chose him!
“Don’t trust him,” Helena warned again.
Conflicted sentiments overlapped Belesis’ face as both hands clutched at her chest, and her body wobbled with audible intakes of breath as she panicked. Lips trembling, she stepped closer to Booker. “Please,” She begged.
“Anything for you, but—he’s so strong...” He said, hand shakily setting down the blade. Faith-filled Belesis’ tear struck face.
“No! Why are emotions so blinding?” Helena screamed.
Right before it touched the ground, he flipped it up and swung it from some kind of string. It extended toward Belesis, but she leaped back with a burst of strength. However, the blade cut a gash in her left thigh from her slight moment of hesitation. Helena fell to her right leg as pain erupted from her leg. She winced as blood started seeping down her leg, she stared down in shock. Fatchna’s still playing that game?
She looked up to find Belesis land on a small bolder between her and Booker, creating a triangle between them. Her wound very slowly started to congeal back together, and she was clutching her right side, face white with horror as she stared at the wound in Helena’s leg, her lips trembling and throat constricting.
Fatchna and Booker laughed emphatically. “I can’t believe you fell for that. You’re supposed to be a General!” Fatchna wheezed. “Now, Booker, what’s this connection. I’m dying to know what that weasel found on the mysterious Belesis.”
Booker sneered, while Belesis’ face beseeched him to stop. Agony painted across her features as she struggled to stay on her feet. “Belesis—what? I think you can guess the answer at this point—Belesis Vandred. A former member of a Vandred Branch House, and at one point was commissioned by her father to kill the Main House second daughter, Helena Vandred.” Helena’s body went numb as she stared at Belesis’ mortified expression.
“Helena’s own mother gave the order, and since Belesis was Helena’s healer at the age of four … it made her the perfect candidate.” Not possible, my healer was a blonde and … that holographic image; Belesis’ a Biokinetic. Of course, but why didn’t I see the subtle differences in facial features? They haven’t changed that much … I just … I don’t remember a lot from when I was sick… The memory flashed into her brain as clear as day, the events as sharp as four years previous. Her mind bringing her back to the exact moment Booker was describing.
* * *
She was in her old gem encrusted mahogany bed. Her vision hazed and she felt convulsive shudders running up her body. Muffled coughs expelled from her lungs and pain disrupted her thoughts. It lasted several seconds before she felt herself stabilizing.
Gasping, she looked up to find the blonde haired teenage version of Belesis. Helena could make out a plain green dress that was elegantly cut, the attire of a Branch Family female doctors.
Her bright green eyes stared down at her in concern. “You’ll be alright Lady Vandred—even if your mind is trying to deteriorate. I’ll keep you safe—unless I’m not here.” A buzzer sounded in the background and Belesis uncovered a portable phone from inside the folds of her dress. Right, back at the manor, they used phones to communicate between Houses.
“Father, why are you speaking so quickly—what?” Moving further away from the bed she whispered. “Lady Vesla has ordered our family to carry out an—an assassination against the young Lady Vandred? How can that be—she’s her daughter? It would make the succession more in our favor, but—no—I understand! We have to obey the Head and Lady, no matter the order, but—me?”
Belesis’ voice became desperate. “Master Drake has charged me with her protection and healing. I can’t just—I understand the Heads trump all previous orders, but she’s only four years old. If—if I leave her alone—she’ll die in any case” Belesis seemed to have a hard time letting go of the words. “I’ll be disowned—and charge me with treason if I don’t comply with your order? I’m...” She cut off as her father said something else.
Belesis’ hands were trembling as she stopped talking and the phone slowly fell below her cheek. Her eyes were scared, body shaking as she stared down at Helena. Slowly, hesitantly, she began moving her hand toward Helena’s brow, every inch increased her quakes.
Helena had watched with a throbbing heart as her body worked furiously to keep her alive. Centimeters before touching Helena’s skin, she retracted her fingers, tears springing from her eyes. “I can’t do it. I don’t like hurting people. It hurts—I—I can do it so...” Her hands clutched at her chest, folding the fabric together as she convulsed.
Her weak voice came out in gasps. “It’s—alright, Sis—I—mother … you’ll be punished—if...” She coughed violently, and Belesis’ hands darted out, pressing against her forehead. The pain eased, and her vision cleared again. “If—you don’t. I like you—don’t want you hurt...” She coughed again and blacked out.
In the next memory, Belesis still hung over her, playing with her blonde hair; a torn expression marring her face. “Sis?” Helena’s voice came out in a squeak that was overshadowed by the door bursting open and Drake rushing into the room.
His hard green eyes were odd to her; she couldn’t remember seeing them like that before. I never saw him outraged to this extent, was this the only time? He and Belesis vanished. Seconds later, Belesis was pinned against the wall. Drake’s gloved hands against her throat. What was that shift, Drake’s ability? I’ve never seen him use it.
Belesis choked with tears falling down her cheeks. Her arms seemed suspended at her side, and her head was the only thing that struggled to move. “You were going to kill her.” He spat with venom.
Her body trembled as she rose. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the bedside mirror. Her very young face was flushed with anger, weakly, but surely. “Don’t bully Sis—she always talks to me and teaches me stuff. You never come and visit—Drake, only Sis.”
Her body seized, and she blacked out again. Moments later, her vision cleared to Belesis’ red face hanging over her, and sweat covered her palms, shakes transferring to Helena’s body. Drake’s voice was cold and dark, holding an edge that sent chills down Helena’s spine. “You better keep your promise.”
“I’ll do it, and anything else you instruct—unless I die,” Belesis said with vigor and a breathless tone. Helena’s vision faded again, and she jolted as Booker’s voice came into focus.
* * *
“What will you do, Belesis?” His face showed a malicious grin as he snapped his fingers and Helena felt her brain blank as she staggered. Activating her reception, she picked up Belesis’ body rush into her perceptive radius with Booker. Helena’s breath caught as she found Belesis’ muscles were constricting in resistance. She’s completely exhausted! What’s she doing … no … she doesn’t have enough strength to get away...
Running between Booker and Helena, Belesis shoved her shoulder, sending her tumbling across the ground. Her reception sent back every millisecond of information. Slowly, effortlessly, the blade slid through Belesis’ back, severing the renal artery, descending colon, stomach, and puncturing her left kidney. No … she’s too exhausted to heal herself from that kind of wound … she has to … she can’t die...
Her vision stabilized, fear pervaded her body as she witnessed Belesis standing above her, quivering with the blade pointing out of her side. Her hands clasped around the knife as blood gushing from her wound, soaking into her green nightgown and dropped onto the bladed grass, coloring it red.
Belesis looked down with a strained smile, the curved knife protruding from her stomach. Booker sunk the razor’s edge to its hilt into her back, twisting, the tip hovering in front of Helena’s eyes. Belesis’ body started to shake, but she had the warmest smile Helena had ever witnessed on her face as blood began coating her lips. Her body worked frantically to keep her alive.
Swallowing, she gasped. “I’m—sorry. Lady—Vandred, I didn’t deserve your kindness then or—now. The Branch Houses—are meant for this kind of task.” Cold chills spread down Helena’s body as she watched Belesis’ glowing expression. That’s not right...
Her eyes shut for a moment as she laughed. Her left leg shot out, forcing Booker to jump back, blade leaving her body as blood cascaded down her legs. Her face contorted with pain as the edge left; Helena’s mind was in a panic. Why isn’t she healing faster? Is she that empty on Focus? Run!
“I’m happy to give my life for yours—there’s nothing more I want.” Her eyes slowly faded and her smile waned. She wobbled in place her bare legs quivering as red vitality flowed down its smooth surface.
Helena felt an emptiness she’d never experienced before as she felt the same blade puncture her soul.
She dropped to her knees as blood gushed from her mouth and flowed from her knitting wounds. Her raven-black hair floated around her in the warm breeze. Helena’s lungs convulsed as air came in short shuttering pants. Mother ordered a Branch House to kill me … he shoved it on Belesis … she’s my cousin…
Her sight fuzzed as tears fought past her shock. Belesis’ eyes were faded as she wobbled, body hanging on by a thread. Is this how Vandreds use their relatives? As shields, assassins, and trash? Belesis had done more than her duty to the Main House, and this is her reward? Drake sent her to look after me in advance, yet again another tragedy befell her. In all cases, Belesis was charged to me, and it had first cost her family and now her life. The one thing she emotionally attached to played her like a fool and stabbed her in the back The entire situation was in response to me ... everything...
No! It’s not only Drake or my mother. It’s Phantasm and me. I could have avoided this entire situation if I had just listened to Kara and kept that device with me! That simple, simple mistake had given Phantasm all he wanted and more. I’m weak and stupid!
Fatchna and Booker laughed uncontrollably.
Fatchna ended his laughter with a low chuckle. “Is this all that Belesis, the Pernicious Antivenin, is capable of? Killed by a Captain!”
Uncontrolled tears fell down Helena’s cheeks as Belesis dropped to the floor in her pooling blood. Her wounds were almost healed, but her body was still struggling. Everything around me is crumbling! Drake uses me as an experiment, my mother wants me dead, and my life is spared by sacrificing my cousin. The only person that was there for me was Belesis, a member of the Branch Family! The Branch Families were always with me; the butlers, maids, doctors, only the Branch Families … I haven’t been in control at all—I’m weak!