A Sword of Ivy, Part 22

“This is Voldazek Mekoren,” said a pleasant but business-like voice from several hundred light years away. Hana was in a secure communications room onboard Heart of the Galaxy, calling a man whom her contacts in the Republic indicated could help them defect. “How can I help you?”

“Mr. Mekoren,” Hana replied, “you don’t know me personally, but you may have heard of me before. My name is Hana Lodimeur.”

“Ah, yes,” said Mekoren, still pleasant and business-like, but with a sudden undertone of wariness, “I have heard of you. What would someone like you want with the likes of me?”

“You are the Republic’s liaison with Fangalin, are you not?” Hana asked. Despite officially being at war with each other, the four states that divided up the known galaxy still needed to coexist to some extent, so each state had officials who were in charge of diplomatic relations with the other three states. In no case would any of the states admit that such officials existed, since none of the states officially recognized the existence of the other three, but the liaisons did exist. You just had to know where to look.

“That…may be one of my…unofficial roles,” Mekoren said carefully. “But, I ask you again, what would someone like you want with the likes of me?”

“Mr. Mekoren, I, and several of my associates, would like to formally request asylum with the Republic of Hadramoris,” Hana said, more calmly than she felt. There was a long pause on the other end of the connection.

“Yes, I can see why you might,” Mekoren replied eventually. “Well, the Republic would certainly welcome somebody with your skill set, and given recent upheavals within Fangalin, I doubt anyone would question your motives. There are at least a dozen outstanding warrants for your arrest, but I believe those can be taken care of. You said that several of your associates wish to defect with you?”

“Yes,” Hana said, “every member of my unit, Starfengt, is also requesting asylum.”

“I see,” Mekoren said slowly. “Well, I believe there may be outstanding warrants for their arrest as well, at least for some them. You will have to send me their names so I can make sure the matter is cleared up.”

“Of course,” Hana replied. “In addition, Captain Kyla Vertrane and her crew would also like to request asylum.”

“Vertrane…Vertrane,” Mekoren muttered. “That name sounds familiar.”

“It should,” Hana said, “Captain Vertrane is the owner of the freighter Fluttermask.”

“Ah ha,” Mekoren replied, his voice level, but still carrying a slight note of surprise. “That…might be a bit of a problem. You see, a prominent citizen of the Republic, a man by the name of Grolder Hanh, has claimed for years that Fluttermask was stolen from him by the woman who now flies it in service of Fangalin. He has been petitioning the Senate and the President for years to mount a raid to retrieve his property. He may not be…pleased, if Kyla Vertrane were granted asylum and allowed to keep his ship.”

“Captain Vertrane is the rightful owner of Fluttermask,” Hana replied firmly. “It was not stolen from Grolder Hanh. Hanh was paid in full for the vessel by Treben Holkas, who was acting as an agent for Fangalin. Regardless of how Grolder Hanh, as a loyal Republican patriot, might feel about accepting money from an enemy state, the fact remains that he willingly sold Fluttermask to Kyla Vertrane, and he received full payment.”

“I assume you have proof of this sale?” Mekoren asked.

“Of course,” replied Hana.

“Then there should not be an issue,” Mekoren said, sounding satisfied. “The President has been anxious to get Hanh off his back for some time. He will be pleased to have an excuse to say no to Hanh once and for all.”

“Excellent,” Hana said. “Oh yes, there are a few more people who wish to defect with me.”

“Of course,” Mekoren said smoothly.

“The 9th Brigade of the Fangalin Army, and the 3rd Fleet of the Fangalin Navy,” Hana said. There was a long pause after this.

“Um…please repeat what you just said,” Mekoren said slowly. Hana did so, with a smile on her face. “An entire brigade of troops?” Mekoren asked in a wondering voice, “and, did you say the 3rd Fleet?”

“I did,” Hana replied, her smile growing wider.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Mekoren said, “but doesn’t the 3rd Fleet include Heart of the Galaxy?”

“It does,” Hana said, feeling quite pleased with herself.

“By the One,” Mekoren breathed. “That…that’s quite impressive, Ms. Lodimeur.”

“Why, thank you,” Hana said lightly. “Does this mean you will accept our petition for asylum?”

“Well, it is, of course, not my decision to make,” Mekoren replied, sounding a little more like his normal self. “Such a high level defection will have to be approved by President Trilis himself, but I highly doubt he will turn you down.”

“I suspect your opinion does count for something, though, does it not?” Hana said, figuring it couldn’t hurt to butter Mekoren up a little.

“It may,” Mekoren replied, “but in any case I need to brief the President and his advisors. I suspect I will be contacting you shortly, Ms. Lodimeur.”

“Of course, Mr. Mekoren,” Hana replied. “Thank you for your assistance.” There was a click as Mekoren severed the connection, and Hana sat back with a grin on her face. That had indeed gone well. Mekoren had been duly impressed that she was managing to defect with Fangalin’s newest and most powerful warship. Of course, it had been a happy coincidence that Heart of the Galaxy’s captain was an old friend of Hana’s. But Hana would take whatever she could get.

Her smile faded as she thought about the import of what she’d done. Soon, she would no longer be a citizen of Fangalin. She had taken the first step to leave behind her old loyalties and begin serving a new country. It was hard not to feel melancholy about that, but it had to be done. Shaking her head with a slight sneer, she stood up and left the communications booth. There was no time to sit and feel sorry for herself. There was too much work to be done.

The End

A Sword of Ivy, Part 21

There were some murmurs of approval in the auditorium at this statement. Hana paused, and looked around the room. These men and women were like her. They believed in Fangalin. They believed in the promise of building a new and better society that Fangalin had presented. They may not have been condemned to execution for crimes they hadn’t committed, like she had, but they had been rejected just as thoroughly as she had. She just needed to make them see that.

“No matter what we do, we are traitors to Fangalin,” she said firmly. “If we rebel against Ven Ron, try to fight against him, overthrow him, assassinate him…we are traitors to Fangalin. The Fangalin Charter is our highest law. The Charter was given to our founder, Wellin Votara, as a gift from the Dark Presence itself. It is holy, sacred. It cannot be changed. Not even a Supreme Commander, with the full support of the Grand Council, can amend the Fangalin Charter. And according to this Charter, the very foundation of the state that we hold dear, Ven Ron is the rightful Supreme Commander.”

She paused for a moment, letting that statement hang in the air, and then she continued. “You may not like the idea of joining the Republic. You may think it is treason. But I am telling you, the only way to avoid treason now, is to go back to Numoris and swear loyalty to Ven Ron. Are you willing to do that?”

“Never!” yelled a voice from the back of the room.

“Then stand with me!” roared Hana, punching her fists into the air. “Come with me to the Republic of Hadramoris! Together, we will fight the evil that our beloved Fangalin has become! We will forge the Republic into what Fangalin should have been! We will build the nation that we want to live in!” Swept up in the emotion of her speech, all of the COs began cheering. Some of them got to their feet and started chanting Hana’s name. Gradually, more and more joined in, until all of them were chanting her name and cheering.

Hana just stood there, fists raised in the air, letting the emotion of the moment wash over her. The expression on her face was solemn, but triumphant. Ven Ron would pay for what he had done to her, for what he had done to all of them. A grave injustice had been done, but Hana would correct it.

***

A few hours later, Hana was sitting in her quarters, still exhilarated about her experience in the meeting with the Fleet COs, but she was also somewhat bewildered by it. She had truly expected that no one, or almost no one, would follow her to Hadramoris. Instead, she had gotten the entire 3rd Fleet to join her, and not reluctantly, but enthusiastically. It was somewhat hard for her to believe that she had been so persuasive.

A chime sounded, and she immediately said, “Come in!” The door slid open, and Xeliana walked in, beaming brightly.

“So!” she exclaimed, her eyes shining with delight. “Your terrible idea was a resounding success!”

“I can’t imagine why,” Hana said, shaking her head with a grin. “I still think it’s a terrible idea, but I don’t have a better one.”

“It’s a fantastic idea, Hana,” Xeliana replied, shaking her head as well. “You were right. Fangalin rejected us, so why should we keep fighting for them?”

“I’m surprised at you,” Hana said with a slight frown. “I mean, it’s one thing for me to defect from one state to another. I’ve done it before. It’s practically old hat to me now. But you were born and raised in Fangalin. Can you really turn your back on them so easily?”

“It’s like you said, Hana,” Xeliana responded solemnly. “I’m not turning my back on Fangalin. Fangalin is turning its back on me. I may have been born and raised in Fangalin, but my parents came from the Empire. They believed that Fangalin was better than the Empire. They had certain morals that they felt the Empire wasn’t living up to, and they instilled those morals in me. And now I see that Fangalin isn’t living up to those morals either. The Fangalin Charter may be the highest law of Fangalin, but there is a higher law out there, and I have to live by that law. And that law says that murder is wrong, and I don’t care who is doing the murdering. If someone kills the man that they’ve sworn allegiance to, that person should be punished, not rewarded with the dead man’s position.”

“Well said, my friend,” Hana replied with a grin. “I must say, it seemed pretty obvious to me, but I don’t always have the best grasp of what will seem obvious to other people.”

“You don’t understand the effect you have on people, do you?” Xeliana asked, shaking her head in bemusement. “You don’t realize that I, and so many others, would follow you into the very bowels of Nerzaga if you asked.”

“But why?” Hana blurted. “Why? I’m just a regular person. I’m not anybody special. You keep trying to tell me I am, but I’m just not.”

“You are, though,” Xeliana replied earnestly, “and the fact that you don’t realize it is part of what makes you so wonderful. Somebody like Ven Ron thinks that he’s spectacular, and worth following, but you really are, and the fact that you don’t realize it is part of what makes you so special.”

“Well, then why are you so determined to convince me that I’m special?” Hana said with a frown. Xeliana opened her mouth to reply, and then shut it again, her frown mirroring Hana’s.

“You know, you’ve got a good point,” she said. “Never mind. You’re just a regular person after all. Nothing special about you.” She looked at Hana, a small smile playing at the edges of her mouth, and then they both burst out laughing.

To be continued…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 20

Hana didn’t want to waste any time now that the 3rd Fleet was assembled. She needed to present her plan to the commanding officers of every ship and army unit that had rallied to her, and see what the consensus was. Despite the encouraging words from Xeliana and Chieria, she was more than half convinced that not a single CO would go along with her plan. It was a terrible plan, but despite its awfulness, she still couldn’t think of an alternative. The 3rd Fleet was one of ten fleets in the Fangalin Navy. Even though it was the strongest single fleet, they couldn’t hope to overthrow Ven Ron without more fleets on their side.

Despite the lack of an alternative, Hana was having second thoughts about her plan, even before presenting it to the Fleet COs. She loved Fangalin. She had devoted her life to serving Fangalin, ever since the Empire had betrayed her and left her for dead. The plan she was about to propose would be tantamount to treason against Fangalin, and she wasn’t sure she could go through with it.

But then again, she had been devoted to the Empire once. She had dedicated her life to serving the Empire, and then the Empire had been revealed to be corrupt and dying. She had fought to change it, fought to reform it, but the Empire had fought back, and she had been left with the choice between death and serving Fangalin instead. She had gone to Fangalin without any hesitation.

And now she was in the same situation again. The state she served had turned against her, wanted her dead. And the reasons weren’t even as good this time. Fangalin had revealed itself to be more corrupt, more vile than the Empire had ever been. She had every reason in the world to turn against Fangalin, even more so than when she’d turned against the Empire. Why was the decision so much more difficult this time?

The answer came to her, as she sat in the VIP quarters onboard Heart of the Galaxy, waiting for the Fleet COs to be assembled. When she had left the Empire, she had been a child. Legally she had been an adult, but emotionally, she had still been a child. She had grown up in Fangalin. She had devoted her adult life to serving Fangalin. She had killed for Fangalin, many times, something she had never done while living in the Empire. She had given so much more of herself to Fangalin than she ever had to the Empire. Fangalin was her life, and it had cast her out.

She didn’t want to abandon Fangalin, but she didn’t have a choice. Fangalin had abandoned her. She had joined Fangalin believing that it was everything she had wanted the Empire to be, but in the end, an organization was no better than the people who were part of it, and people were the same no matter where you went in the galaxy. Twice now, she had devoted herself to a state, and that state had cast her out. So she would move on. Maybe the third time was the charm.

Having worked through these thoughts, she came to the meeting with the Fleet COs feeling remarkably calm. She had made her decision. She didn’t expect anyone to follow her, but she would accept anyone who was willing. And if they tried to stop her, well, she would listen. Maybe somebody else could see a solution that she couldn’t.

The meeting was held in a large auditorium. The Fleet COs sat in several rows of seats in the middle of the room, and Hana sat on a raised platform at the front of the room with Admiral Peltoren, Colonel Latrafai, Xeliana, and General Moreven Zelexas, a woman about the same age as Admiral Peltoren, who was the commanding officer of the 9th Brigade. Admiral Peltoren spoke first, introducing Hana to those who didn’t know her, and reminding the COs why they were there. Then it was Hana’s turn.

“I’m going to be blunt with you,” she said as she came to the podium. “We are in a difficult spot. As grateful as I am that you saved me from Ven Ron’s insane ambition, and have joined me in opposition to him, we don’t have much of a chance of overthrowing him. We are one fleet against a vast armada. Therefore, I’m going to propose we do something that most of you aren’t going to like.” She paused, and mentally gathered herself before she spoke again. “I think we should defect to the Republic of Hadramoris.”

There was a moment of shock that rippled through the room like silent thunder, and then pandemonium broke out. All of the Fleet COs started talking at once, and none of them seemed happy about Hana’s idea. Hana was at peace, though. She had dropped her bombshell, and now all that remained was to assess the damage.

“Silence!” bellowed Chieria, cutting through the angry chattering of the Fleet COs. Hers was a voice used to giving commands on a noisy starship bridge, and, astounded as the Fleet COs were, they were still soldiers, used to listening when a superior officer spoke.

Hana looked around at all the COs as their muttering subsided. She knew exactly how they felt. The inside of her brain had sounded just like the inside of this auditorium as she had debated the pros and cons of defecting. But it was the only option. She reminded herself of that, as she waited for the noise to die down, and silence to fall over the room.

“I know this goes against everything we believe in,” Hana said quietly to the silent COs. “I know that we are soldiers of Fangalin. I know it shocks you to the core to hear me, the so-called Hero of Fangalin, suggest defecting to an enemy. But Fangalin has rejected us. Ven Ron is the rightful Supreme Commander according the highest law of Fangalin. And I cannot accept that. Even if Ven Ron extended an amnesty to me, I would not take it. I will not serve Ven Ron.”

To be continued…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 19

Everything on Heart of the Galaxy seemed enormous. The hangar bay where Fluttermask docked was easily the largest hangar bay Hana had ever seen, not just on a starship, but anywhere. As she passed through halls that looked less like corridors on a starship and more like hallways in the Great Hall of Fangalin, the lieutenant escorting her kept pointing out various areas of the Starfortress, all of which were much larger than the equivalent areas on any other starship Hana had ever seen. The engine room in particular had been most impressive. Just one of Galaxy’s four engine cores was larger than Fluttermask. But nothing she saw in her brief tour prepared her for the bridge.

Most starship bridges were fairly compact, with room for about 20 people at most. Fortunately the average warship only needed a bridge crew of about 10. Heart of the Galaxy was so massive and complex that it required a 100 person bridge crew. Knowing this, Hana expected the bridge to seem extremely crowded. But instead, it hardly seemed like there was anyone on the bridge at all. In fact, Galaxy’s bridge was so vast and spacious it could have easily fit 1000 people, with room to spare.

As Hana walked onto the bridge, she realized her mouth was hanging open, and she snapped it shut, just as a woman stood up from a chair in the center of the bridge. The chair was placed on a raised platform, so that whoever sat in it could see everything that was going on in the vast space. The woman was the captain of Heart of the Galaxy, Admiral Chieria Peltoren. Peltoren was a tall woman in her mid-50s, with short black hair that was just starting to turn gray, brown eyes, and chiseled features. She seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Colonel Latrafai, but Hana knew that her steely exterior hid a warm and compassionate heart. Come to think of it, so did Colonel Latrafai’s.

“Hana, it’s good to see you again,” Chieria said with a smile as she descended the command platform and came over to shake Hana’s hand.

“And you, Chieria,” Hana said warmly. “It’s been…three years, now?”

“Four, I believe,” Chieria replied, her smile fading. “I was so sorry to hear about Arcten. I should have contacted you.”

“No, I should have contacted you,” Hana said, shaking her head firmly. “You knew him longer than I did.”

“Maybe so, but you were closer to him than I could ever have hoped to be,” Chieria replied, sadness etching her features. “I’m sure you could have used a sympathetic ear, and I kept meaning to contact you, but every time I tried, something came up, or I had some reason why I couldn’t, and so on, and so forth, and so here we are.”

“Here we are,” Hana said, smiling. “All is forgiven, Chieria. If it wasn’t for you, I’d be one head shorter right now. Your intervention on Numoris was worth a thousand calls.” Chieria smiled back at her, and then turned and went up the steps to the command chair. Sitting down, she beckoned Hana to come up and sit next to her, which Hana did.

“As good as it is to see you, we have a lot of work to do,” Chieria said, her voice taking on a brisk, business-like tone. “Heart of the Galaxy is the best ship in the fleet, but we’re still only one ship. Even with the rest of the 9th Fleet, we don’t have the firepower to go up against the entire Fangalin Navy. We should still have the element of surprise. I don’t think that Ron suspects I’ve joined you, but it won’t take him long to figure it out. However, even the element of surprise and a Starfortress can only go so far.”

“Yeah, I’ve thought about that,” Hana said with a frown. “I have an idea, but I’d rather tell all the COs with us at once. I’m…not sure anyone’s going to approve.”

“Well, even a bad idea is better than anything I’ve got,” Chieria said with a slight smile. “I didn’t really think too hard about what we were going to do after we rescued you. I just knew it would be a terrible crime to let Ven Ron get away with murdering you.”

“What a mess this is,” Hana muttered. “If only Calabane would have let me investigate his assistant. But he was too stubborn stupid to think that Velenoth might be working for Ron.”

“Dren Calabane was a good man, and a good Supreme Commander,” Chieria said somberly, “but even the best man has his blind spots.”

“Yeah, well, that was a pretty big one,” Hana said with a frown. “I shouldn’t talk bad about the dead, but if I could have unmasked Velenoth…things would look pretty different right about now.”

“And what if Calabane had given you the green light to investigate Velenoth and he still managed to murder the Supreme Commander before you could unmask him?” Chieria asked. “And what if you had convinced Calabane to arrest Velenoth without evidence and it turned out he was innocent? There’s no point in wondering about what might have been, Hana. We have no way of knowing what might have been.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Hana said with a sigh. “It’s just so…frustrating! I’ve given my life to Fangalin, and to see it all torn down by that…that…pervert!” She slammed her fist into the armrest of her chair.

“We all feel the same way, Hana,” Chieria replied quietly. “That’s why we’re here.”

“I know,” Hana said, calming down immediately. “Thanks for letting me vent.”

“It’s the least I could do,” Chieria replied with a small smile. She paused for a moment, hesitating, and then she said, “I know how much Arcten meant to you. I know I can never replace him, but…if there’s anything I can do, ever…just let me know.”

“Thank you, Chieria,” Hana said, closing her eyes. “I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

To be continued…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 18

It took a few days for Fluttermask to reach its destination, and during the trip, Hana had plenty of time to get up to speed on the situation in Fangalin. Ven Ron’s coup had caused a major split. There were many who believed that Ron had done nothing wrong. After all, the Fangalin Charter simply said that on the death of the Supreme Commander, the Grand Council would elect one of their members to replace him. Dren Calabane was dead, and Ven Ron, a Councilor, had been elected to replace him. Nobody really believed Ron’s story that Hana Lodimeur had murdered Dren Calabane, but for many it didn’t matter. Ven Ron was the legally elected Supreme Commander, and that was good enough.

But there were many others who believed that, while Ron had followed the letter of the law, he had demolished its spirit. These people believed that, even if the Charter didn’t specifically say anything about not murdering a Supreme Commander, there were certain things that were just inherently wrong. It didn’t matter for many that the Charter didn’t forbid what Ron had done. It didn’t need to, because murder was wrong, no matter what.

But what really pushed the opposition to Ron over the edge was that he had blamed Calabane’s death on Hana Lodimeur. Ron might have thought he was eliminating two rivals in one fell swoop, but what he’d really done was stir up a hornet’s nest. Hana was so popular and so famous throughout Fangalin that no one believed she would have killed Dren Calabane. No one bought Ron’s story that the great hero of Fangalin had turned against her patron. Ron might have thought he’d concocted the perfect crime, but in reality he’d screwed up, big time.

The problem was, Hana couldn’t see that it would be enough. In addition to Starfengt, Fluttermask, and the 9th Brigade, Xeliana and Vondamisk had also convinced the 3rd Fleet of the Fangalin Navy to join them, but that was it. Although the people of Fangalin were largely on Hana’s side, the military had mostly sided with Ron. The 9th Brigade and the 3rd Fleet were the best units in Fangalin, but they still were only a fraction of the total military strength of the Grand and Invincible Army. If Hana hoped to have a chance of dislodging Ven Ron from the Supreme Commander’s office, she would need more troops.

So, the day before they reached their destination, Hana came to a decision. She didn’t know if anybody would go along with it, but she knew what she needed to do. If she had to do it alone, she would. But if the past few days had taught her anything, it was that she had friends who cared deeply about her. Surely some of them would go along with her decision, even if they didn’t like it.

“We’re about to reach the rendezvous point,” Xeliana said, coming into Hana’s quarters on the third day after they left Numoris.

“Good,” Hana said. “I’ve been thinking, and I might have a plan.”

“Glad to hear it,” Xeliana replied, flashing one of her winning smiles.

“Yeah, well, you might not say that once you know what it is,” Hana said darkly.

“Haven’t the last few days taught you anything, Hana?” Xeliana said, exasperated. “I am going to stand by your side, no matter what.”

“Standing by my side doesn’t mean you agree with all of my decisions,” Hana said with a sardonic smile. “In fact, I seem to remember at one point that standing by my side meant that you and Arcten locked me in a holding cell.” Xeliana’s smile slid off her face and was replaced with a guilty expression.

“To be fair, that was totally Arcten’s idea,” Xeliana said.

“Yeah, but you went along with it,” Hana said, her smile turning into a grin. “The point is, I’ve had an idea. And it might be the worst idea I’ve ever had. But it’s the only one I can think of.”

“Maybe that’s true,” Xeliana said seriously. “But I’m not going to abandon you. I might try to talk you out of it. I might even refuse to go along with it, if it’s a really terrible idea. But I’m not going to abandon you. You will always be my friend, no matter what.”

“Thank you, Xel,” Hana said, taking Xeliana’s hands in hers. “I can never explain to you how much that means to me.”

“You don’t have to,” Xeliana replied, smiling, “because I know that you would do the same for me.” Beaming, the two friends hugged each other tight.

“Admiral Lodimeur,” came a voice over the intercom. It was Kyla Vertrane, the captain of Fluttermask. “We’re going to be dropping out of subspace in just a few minutes.”

“Thank you, Captain Vertrane,” Hana replied, letting Xeliana go. “I’m headed for the cargo bay right now.”

Fluttermask and its passengers were traveling with a detachment from the 3rd Fleet, on their way to meet up with the rest of the 3rd Fleet. There were four ships in the detachment, aside from Fluttermask: two destroyers, Crystalline Shield and Tower of Ilinia, one cruiser, Striving for Glory, and a battleship, Magisterium. They had been dispatched by the commander of the 3rd Fleet, Admiral Chieria Peltoren, to assist Starfengt and the 9th Brigade by punching a hole in the orbital defenses around Numoris. Peltoren hadn’t wanted to commit the entire 3rd Fleet to the rescue attempt, because she wanted to keep it a secret that the entire 3rd Fleet was opposing Ven Ron. If only 4 ships were involved, Peltoren could pretend, at least temporarily, that those 4 captains were acting on their own.

As soon as Fluttermask dropped out of subspace, Kyla Vertrane guided her ship into the docking bay of Peltoren’s massive flagship, Heart of the Galaxy. Galaxy had been one of Zhemeen Fortulis’s pet projects, and it had been completed under Dren Calabane’s supervision. It was the first of a brand new type of warship, bigger than a battleship or a cruiser. Calabane had dubbed it a Starfortress, and as Hana watched it loom larger and larger, she had to admit that it was very well named.

To be continued…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 17

“When you told me that you would do whatever I wanted,” Hana said, shaking her head in a bemused way while Vondamisk just smiled back at her, “I had no idea that would include you risking your career-and your life!-just to save me.”

“Hana, Hana, Hana,” Vondamisk replied, shaking his head in turn. “You have no idea how important you are, do you? I admit that, before I met you, I figured all of the stories about your exploits were just propaganda. But after seeing what you did on Weblish, I knew that, if anything, the stories I’d heard were understated. You are truly the greatest hero Fangalin has, and for you to be sacrificed for one man’s ambition would have been a truly grievous crime.”

“Well,” Hana said, blushing slightly, “I’m certainly glad you feel that way, if only because it means I’m not likely to die today.” Everyone chuckled at this. “But I’m not sure what we can do against Ron. Unless you brought more than just the 4th Battalion with you?”

“Do you think I would lead an assault on the Great Hall itself with just one battalion?” Vondamisk asked, raising one eyebrow slightly. “I brought the entire 9th Brigade with me!”

“Now that,” Hana said, her eyes widening, “we can do something with.” She looked around at all the members of Starfengt, as well as Vondamisk and his troops, and tears filled her eyes.

“Everybody,” she said, her voice cracking slightly, “thank you. For all of you to risk your lives to rescue me… I can never truly express how much it means to me that you came for me.”

“Like Colonel Latrafai said, you are the heart and soul of Fangalin,” Xeliana said, taking Hana’s hands in hers. “Ven Ron is a usurper, we all know that. And if we want to be serious about removing him, then we need you. Anyone who truly believes in the mission of Fangalin will rally behind you.” She paused for a moment, and then she smiled. “Plus, you’re my friend. And I don’t leave my friends behind.” A hearty cheer rose up from everyone in the cargo hold at this statement. Tears of joy streamed down Hana’s cheeks as she looked around at all the cheering faces.

“Why are you people so determined to see me cry?” she exclaimed, laughing through her tears. Everyone laughed with her, and suddenly she was surrounded by people, clapping her on the back, hugging her, showing her how much they cared about her and how glad they were that she was safe.

After a few minutes of this, Xeliana announced that Hana needed to get some rest, and took her to her quarters. After making sure she had some food and water, Xeliana started to leave, but Hana insisted that she stay.

“I’ll sleep soon, I promise,” Hana said, as she could see that Xeliana was about to insist that she go to bed. “But I need to talk to you first.”

“Why? What’s up?” Xeliana asked, sitting down on Hana’s bed and looking concerned.

“I just…well, you gave me that speech on the way back from Weblish, about being someone I could trust and all that…and…well…for some reason…deep down inside…I didn’t believe it until now,” Hana mumbled, not making eye contact with Xeliana. Xeliana just looked at Hana for a moment, with no expression on her face, and then suddenly, without saying anything, she hugged Hana as tight as she could. For a long time, Hana just held on to her, sobbing silently, tears running down her cheeks. Then, finally, she let go and began wiping the tears off.

“I don’t know why I’m being so emotional,” she muttered. “It must be the diloxitin.”

“You bottle everything up inside,” Xeliana replied, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. “You try so hard to act tough, but you’re just as human as the rest of us. It’s okay to let that out once in awhile. Everybody who knows you already knows that you’re tough. You don’t need to prove it to any of us. And if anybody thinks you’re weak because they saw you cry, who cares? You know you’re not weak. Who cares what anybody thinks?”

“How did you get so wise?” Hana asked in mock irritation. “I’m supposed to be your commander. I’m supposed to be the one who gives you advice and takes care of you. Why do you always end up taking care of me?”

“Oh, Hana,” Xeliana said with a wistful smile, “you take care of me more than you know. Why do you think I’m so devoted to you? I wouldn’t lead an army into the Great Hall to rescue just anybody, you know.”

“I’m so lucky to have a friend like you,” Hana murmured, closing her eyes and slumping against the bulkhead.

“And I’m lucky to have you,” Xeliana smiled, “but right now, you need to get some rest.”

“I know, I know,” Hana grumbled, laying down on the bed. She slipped under the blankets, snuggled up into a ball, and closed her eyes. Xeliana pulled the covers up around her, and moved toward the door, but before she could leave, Hana said, “What ship are we on, anyway?”

Fluttermask,” Xeliana said with a grin. Hana’s eyes popped open.

Starfengt, the 9th Brigade, and Fluttermask!?” Hana exclaimed. “You really did loot the best of Fangalin for my sake.”

“So I did,” Xeliana said with a proud smile. “Now get some sleep. This would be a fine rescue indeed if you keeled over from exhaustion right at the end of it.”

“Yes, sir! Right away, sir!” Hana said with a mischievous grin. Xeliana rolled her eyes and gave Hana a rude gesture, which caused Hana to chuckle. As soon as the door slid shut behind Xeliana and the lights went out, Hana was sleeping more deeply than she had in a very long time.

To be continued…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 16

“We need to move quickly,” Xeliana said, as she and Velencias helped Hana walk down the hall and Shalaminas and Vedregela flanked them. “Ron’s cronies should be coming down at any moment to bring you to your execution. We would have been here sooner, but it took us this long to figure out where Ron was keeping you.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Hana said with a weak grin. “At least you got me out before Ron could lay claim to my head.”

“Well, let’s hope so, anyway,” Xeliana said with a grimace. They turned a corner and made their way up a flight of stairs, and two more members of Starfengt was waiting for them at the top.

“How’s the situation?” Xeliana asked.

“Everything is clear, sir,” replied Lt. Voranine Letraska, a young woman with short, dark hair.

“And our ride?” Xeliana said.

“Secure, sir,” Voranine replied. “The pilot is ready and waiting to take off immediately.”

“Excellent,” Xeliana said, “Let’s get out of here, then.” They quickly passed through the guard chamber, went up two more flights of stairs, and found themselves in a long hallway on the first floor of the Great Hall. There were three more members of Starfengt waiting for them there.

“Status!” Xeliana barked as soon as she saw them.

“All clear, sir!” Chief Petty Officer Morazek Iriain announced.

“Let’s keep moving!” Xeliana ordered, and the three that had been standing guard fell in with them. They slipped through the passageways of the Great Hall as swift and silent as shadows. They saw and heard no one, which seemed somewhat ominous to Hana, but Xeliana assured her that it was because anyone who was anyone was being assembled in the courtyard to witness her execution. That seemed like a decent enough reason for the Great Hall to be empty, but Hana wasn’t entirely convinced, considering the extensive measures Ron had taken to prevent her escape.

“Two more turns and we’ll be there,” Xeliana said quietly. Hana nodded as they turned the corner into a long hallway, but they only made it halfway before doors opened behind and ahead of them, and dozens of troops streamed into the corridor. Hana and the rest of Starfengt froze as they suddenly had numerous assault rifles trained on their heads.

“Xeliana Merane,” said a smug voice from behind the soldiers in front of them. A silent snarl curled Hana’s face as she recognized Ven Ron’s voice. “I wouldn’t have expected you, of all people, to betray the Dark Presence. A former Imperial, like Miss Hana Lodimeur, sure. Nobody was surprised by her treachery. But someone born and raised in the warm shadow of the Great Hall of Fangalin? Shocking, I must admit.”

“We are not the traitors here!” Xeliana called out, her voice ringing with pride and anger. “The only traitor in this building is you!”

“Me, Captain Merane?” Ron shot back, his voice more smug than ever. “Such terrible charges being flung about by someone caught in the act of rescuing a convicted traitor!”

“‘Traitor’ seems like a pretty good name for someone who would murder a rival in cold blood for the sake of naked ambition and then pin that murder on one of Fangalin’s greatest heroes, simply because that hero rejected your crude advances!” Xeliana shouted.

“There’s no reason for me to listen to this drivel,” Ron said with a superior little smirk on his face. “I was going to give you the dignity of a public execution, and the opportunity to confess your crimes and lighten the burden on your souls, but instead I think I’ll just have you gunned down in this anonymous hallway like the rats you are.” Ron raised his arm to give the signal to his troops to fire, but before he could give the command, there was a deafening explosion and the hallway filled with smoke.

“Go!” Xeliana yelled, as Velencias hoisted Hana over his shoulder and followed his companions through the huge hole in the wall left by the explosion before Ron and his troops could recover.

“What is going on!” Hana yelled in Velencias’s ear as she tried to ignore the indignity of being hauled around like a sack of potatoes.

“Our secret weapon!” Velencias yelled back, and Hana could hear the grin in his voice.

“What!” Hana yelled, confused, but either Velencias didn’t hear her, or was ignoring her, because he didn’t respond.

It was difficult for Hana to understand what was going on, considering her upper body was hanging down Velencias’s back, but she gradually realized that a pitched battle was happening in one of the Great Hall’s hangar bays. She couldn’t figure out who was involved, aside from Starfengt and the troops loyal to Ron. She twisted her head as much as she could to try and figure out what was going on, but all she could discover was that the troops aiding Starfengt were wearing Fangalin Army uniforms. Before she could figure out more, Velencias was charging up the loading ramp of a starship and it was closing behind him.

“We’ve got the package!” yelled Xeliana over her communicator. “All units, disengage and pull out immediately!”

“The package?” Hana said with one eyebrow raised as Shalaminas put her down. “Really?” Velencias just smirked in response.

“It’s good to see you again, Admiral Lodimeur,” said a familiar voice behind Hana. She turned, slowly, because of the motion of the starship taking off and because she was still wobbly from the diloxitin and from being hauled like a sack of meat across a battlefield. When she finally saw who was speaking, her jaw dropped.

“C-Colonel Latrafai?” she gasped.

“The very same,” Vondamisk Latrafai  said with a small, pleased smile.

“What are you doing here?” she said, barely able to contain her shock. Her squad coming to rescue her had been enough of a surprise, but one she had expected, deep down inside. But a respected Army Colonel whom she barely knew? She wouldn’t have expected that in a million years.

“I told you once that I owed you a debt I could never repay,” Latrafai said solemnly, although he was still smiling. “Well, just because a man can’t repay a debt doesn’t mean he shouldn’t give it a try.”

To be continued…