A Sword of Ivy, Part 19

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…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 15

The next three days were the worst days of Hana’s life. As a soldier, she had certainly stared death in the face before, but never like this. Always before she’d had a gun in her hand, ready to defy her fate with every fiber of her being. But sitting and waiting for the end to come like this was nothing that Hana had ever experienced before. And it was terrible.

For the first day, Hana was determined to preserve her strength so that she could take advantage as soon as an opportunity to escape presented itself. She sat quietly and meditated, using a trick that Arcten had taught her to focus her thoughts and control her passion. She had often used it before missions, and she had found it to be extremely helpful. In fact, she had done it before every mission after she’d learned it, except for the fateful mission to Trisitania when Arcten had been killed.

That thought flitted across Hana’s mind as she meditated, and she flicked it away angrily. She needed to have her mind calm and empty, if she was going to harness all of her energy and passion and direct it towards escaping.

But by the morning of the second day, she began to wonder if an opportunity to escape was even going to present itself. She had assumed that the guards would feed her, but she had not seen or heard a soul since she’d been tossed back into her cell after her interview with Ven Ron. It was beginning to look as if Ron didn’t have any interest in feeding someone who was going to be executed in a few days anyway.

By the end of the second day, Hana began to worry. Even though she was using her meditation trick to preserve her energy and focus her strength, if she didn’t get any food or water, she wouldn’t have any strength left to focus. But she had even more to worry about than lack of nourishment. She had suspected, when she initially came to in her cell, that she’d been drugged. Originally she’d imagined that whatever food or water she was given would be laced with the same drug, which would have been a complication, but one she was prepared to deal with. But then she began to suspect that they weren’t going to feed her, which was also a complication, but at least the effects of the drug they’d given her would wear off. But after two days, she felt even more groggy and disoriented than she had at first, leading her to suspect that they were putting the drug in the air she was breathing.

So, on the day of her execution, she was starving, dehydrated, and intoxicated. Hana was not a person to give up easily, but her situation was looking grimmer than she could have imagined at first. She really had been confident that she would be able to break out of the Great Hall before her scheduled execution drew near, but Ron had seemingly thought of everything. By the time the guards came to take her to her execution, she would be so weak that there would be no way she’d be able to fight her way out, even if her hands and feet were free.

Lack of food and water, not to mention being drugged, can do funny things to a person’s mind, so it was no surprise that when Hana’s cell door opened around noon on the third day and Xeliana Merane walked in the door, her first thought was that she was hallucinating. Her second thought was that Xeliana had betrayed her and was working for Ven Ron. Which was why she greeted Xeliana by screaming incoherently and thrashing around like a madwoman in an attempt to free herself from her chains.

“Wow!” Xeliana exclaimed, taken aback. “That’s a…disturbing way to greet someone. Have they broken you already?”

“I’ll break you!” Hana snarled. “How dare you turn against me like this? I thought you were my friend!”

“Turn against you?’ Xeliana said, her eyes widening in surprise. “What are you talking about? I’m here to rescue you!”

“Oh!” Hana exclaimed, calming down instantly. “Well, in that case, what are you waiting for?”

“For you to stop acting like a crazy person,” Xeliana replied, raising an eyebrow.

“Look, the last couple of days haven’t exactly been conducive to my sanity,” Hana said, half exasperated and half embarrassed. “Now, do you have the key for these chains, or not?” In response, Xeliana grinned and pulled a heavy metal key out of her pocket, which she used to unlock the shackles on Hana’s wrists and ankles.

“Thanks,” Hana said, rubbing her wrists. She tried to stand up, but immediately wobbled and fell back down onto the ground. Before she hit, Xeliana was by her side, helping her back up.

“They’ve been pumping diloxitin into the air in this cell since before you were put in here,” Xeliana said.

“I wondered if it was something like that,” Hana said with a frown, leaning on her friend.

“We shut it down a few minutes ago, but it’ll take a little while for the drug to get out of your system,” Xeliana said, helping Hana through the door. Outside, in the hall, were Vedregela, Velencias, and Shalaminas. At the sight of the four of them, despite how awful she felt, a broad grin spread across her face.

“You guys,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “What would I do without you?”

“Well, by my estimate,” Velencias said, glancing at his watch, “without us you’d be dead in three hours.”

“Then I’m glad you’re here,” Hana said, her smile getting even bigger. Velencias grinned back at her, and then, somewhat surprisingly for him, his face went red and he dropped his eyes. Hana raised an eyebrow at this, but before she could say anything, Xeliana spoke.

“Okay, as touching a reunion as this is, we’re all outlaws now, and we’re still in the dungeon of the Great Hall,” she said. “So how about we get out of here first, and catch up later?” There was a hearty round of agreement at this, and they set off to complete their escape.

To be continued…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 14

The next thing Hana knew, she was waking up in a tiny cell that she recognized as being in the dungeon beneath the Great Hall. Everything on Numoris was relatively new, as the planet had only been settled about 50 years earlier, but these dungeons looked as if they’d been there for centuries. They were dingy, smelly, musty…pretty much every stereotype you could think of to describe a dungeon, these dungeons fit. They were designed to demoralize Fangalin’s worst enemies, and its most reprehensible traitors. Hana couldn’t imagine why she was here.

She didn’t have to wonder about it long, though. Almost as soon as she woke up, as if her conscious state was a cue that someone had been waiting for, the door to her cell opened, and two burly guards entered. She tried demanding that they tell her what was going on, but they ignored her, grabbed her by the arms, and began dragging her out of the cell. She attempted to resist, but there wasn’t anything she could do. Skilled assassin or not, both guards were at least twice her size, plus she was handcuffed. Not only that, but she felt strangely weak. She began to suspect that she had been drugged.

She was dragged roughly into an interrogation room and flung into the hard metal chair in the middle of the room. She tried to get up, but one of the guards held her down while another shackled her hands and feet to the chair. She screamed in impotent rage, but the guards just chuckled roughly and left the room. The chair she was in was bolted to the floor, and she was secured to it with steel restraints. She thrashed and struggled for a few moments, but it quickly became clear to her that there was no escape, so she gave up and tried to preserve her strength instead.

As soon as she stopped screaming, the door opened, and Ven Ron stepped inside. “Well, well, well,” he said with a smug look on his face, “how the mighty have fallen. The great Hana Lodimeur, slayer of Emperors, hero of Fangalin… Now awaiting execution for the murder of the Supreme Commander. How deliciously ironic.” Ron was a tall, muscular man in his early 50s, with short, graying brown hair and hazel eyes, and if Hana hadn’t known him, she probably would have found him handsome. But his reputation preceded him, and now Hana couldn’t look at him without feeling anything but disgust and hatred.

“What are you talking about?” Hana asked with a scowl. “I didn’t murder the Supreme Commander. I was trying to save his life!”

“How convenient,” Ron replied, his smugness growing deeper. “Of course, that excuse ignores the fact that you were the only one in the room with the Supreme Commander when he was poisoned, not to mention that you were the only one who had the opportunity and the motive to eliminate him.”

“Motive!” Hana exclaimed. “What motive!?”

“You were angry that he had removed you from command of Starfengt, and you believed that by eliminating him, you would usher into office a Supreme Commander who would be more amenable to your desires,” Ron said calmly, his smug look morphing into a smug little smile.

“You’re insane,” Hana said, glaring. “Nobody’s going to believe that.”

“It doesn’t really matter what anyone believes,” Ron said with a shrug. “I’ve already been elected Supreme Commander by the Grand Council, and so my word is law, now.” The smile on his face deepened at the look of horror on Hana’s.

“You killed the Supreme Commander,” Hana said, her eyes widening. “That assistant of his. Velenoth. He poisoned Calabane’s wine, after I’d already scanned it for toxins!”

“Oh, yes. Morken has been a loyal servant of mine for many years,” Ron said with a nod. “And he’s already been well rewarded for his efforts. The Councilors have already voted to add him to the Grand Council in my place.”

“I knew it!” Hana snarled. “Oh, Calabane was so convinced that Velenoth was loyal to him! That arrogant idiot!”

“Yes, indeed, but that worked out in my favor, now didn’t it?” Ron said, his smile growing wider and more unpleasant.

“You’re not going to get away with this, you know,” Hana sneered. “You can’t murder a beloved Supreme Commander and expect there to be no consequences.”

“My dear Hana, I don’t know who you think is going to complain,” Ron said, spreading his arms out wide. “Everybody but you, me, and the Council thinks that you killed Dren Calabane. You may have been the Hero of Fangalin once, but now that you’ve, as you put it, murdered a beloved Supreme Commander, your name is now mud.”

“We’ll see about that,” Hana said through clenched teeth, but Ron just laughed derisively.

“Oh, I don’t think we will,” Ron said, still laughing. “I’ve already scheduled your public execution! In three days you will be beheaded in front of the Great Hall, and everyone will see how Fangalin deals with traitors.” Suddenly, his laughter cut off, and he leaned forward with an intense look on his face. Hana instinctively tried to lean back, but she was kept from doing so by her restraints. Before she could do or say anything else, Ron seized her by the shoulders and kissed her roughly on the mouth. Hana, acting on instinct, bit his tongue hard. He yelled angrily, recoiled, and then punched her hard in the face.

The blow was so hard that it would have knocked her to the floor if she hadn’t been chained down. Pain such as she had rarely known enveloped her, and stars swam in front of her eyes. She wanted to groan in agony, but she wouldn’t give her enemy the satisfaction. Instead, she spat blood out of her mouth, his and hers mingled together, and grinned up at him viciously. He stared at her for a moment, and then a nasty smile of his own spread across his face.

“I should teach you who wears the pants around here,” he said, spitting out blood himself. “I should have taught you a long time ago. There’s a reason that only men are allowed to rule in Fangalin. But you aren’t worth the effort. In three days, you’ll be a headless corpse, and I’ll be sipping Dren Calabane’s wine and toasting your memory. Enjoy the few wretched moments of life you have left.” And, after spitting in her face, he turned and left her alone in the interrogation room.

To be continued…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 13

After several weeks of fruitless investigating, there came a day that started off perfectly normally. Hana had spent the whole day standing behind Dren Calabane while he met with a seemingly never-ending parade of Fangalin dignitaries. His final meeting of the day was with a member of Ven Ron’s faction. Calaza Mektoa was a short, round man, who looked a little bit like the late Supreme Commander, Zhemeen Fortulis. But where Fortulis had been a tightly wound ball of energy right up until his death, Councilor Mektoa was a lazy, indolent man who liked his luxuries a little too much. He had a red nose, dark, beady eyes, and a large bald patch in the middle of his grayish-black hair that was somewhat feebly combed-over. He had a glass of fine Iresilian wine in one hand, and an expensive Moratorilian cigar in the other, and he was surveying Calabane as one would survey a bug that one was about to crush underfoot.

Calabane, on the other hand, had a blandly tolerant expression on his face, but Hana knew him well enough to know that he was seething inside. Of all the members of Ven Ron’s faction, Calaza Mektoa was the worst. Hana knew that Calabane hated to waste time dealing with Ron’s faction, especially when he was so close to purging the lot of them from the Grand Council, but appearances needed to be maintained.

“I really do think you should consider my proposal, Commander,” Mektoa said, idly swirling his wine glass and inspecting the way it caught the light of the setting sun streaming in through the massive windows behind Calabane’s desk.

“You know that I always am willing to consider any proposal from the Grand Council, Councilor Mektoa,” Calabane said blandly, “but I think you should be aware that there is very little chance that I will approve this particular proposal. An alliance with the Kingdom of Midigal seems unlikely to further the interests of Fangalin.”

“I’m afraid the Council disagrees with you, Commander,” Mektoa said, after taking a long draw from his cigar. “The Empire is stronger than it has been at any time since the Emergence, and both the Kingdom of Midigal and the Republic of Hadramoris are consolidating their strength as well. If we are going to complete the conquest of the galaxy within our lifetimes, then we should take every advantage we can get.”

“And what happens when the Republic and the Empire are defeated?” Calabane asked, his voice still carefully bland. “Will we give up our dream of unifying the galaxy under our rule? Or will we betray our allies? I must admit, neither of those possibilities are overly appealing to me.”

“Well, you must do what you think best,” Mektoa replied, finishing off his wine and taking one last draw from his cigar. “You are the Supreme Commander, after all. I just thought you might like to know how the Council feels about this matter.”

“And I appreciate the Council bringing these matters to my attention,” Calabane said, standing up. “I hope the Council remembers that my door is always open.”

“Of course, Commander,” Mektoa said, following Calabane’s lead. “Of course.” After exchanging generic pleasantries, Morken Velenoth showed Mektoa out, and Calabane turned to Hana.

“That’s one person I won’t miss,” Calabane said grimly, going over to his liquor cabinet and pouring himself a glass of Iresilian wine. “The man does have good taste in wine, I will admit that.”

“Maybe so, but I suggest letting me scan that wine for toxins before you drink it,” Hana said wryly.

“Oh come now, Admiral,” Calabane said skeptically. “You just saw Councilor Mektoa down a whole glass of this without any ill effect. How do you suppose he could have poisoned the rest of this bottle?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” Hana said firmly. “Your safety is my priority. Call me paranoid if you want, but I’m going to scan that wine.”

“Oh, very well,” Calabane said, handing over the wine. Hana took a small device out of pocket and passed it back and forth near the glass of wine. A few seconds later, the device beeped, and a green light flashed.

“Okay, it’s safe,” Hana said, handing the glass back to him.

“Thank you, Admiral,” Calabane said, taking the glass with a sardonic smile. He took a sip of the wine and smacked his lips appreciatively. “Ah, that’s good.” He sat down at his desk as Morken Velenoth came back in the room. “What’s next on the agenda, Morken?”

“That was your last meeting of the day, Commander,” Velenoth said, coming up to stand next to Calabane’s desk.

“Oh, good,” Calabane said. “That’ll give me some time to catch up on paperwork.”

“Commander, if you don’t need me for anything at the moment, I thought I would go back to my office,” Velenoth said. “I, too, have a great deal of paperwork to do.”

“Of course, Morken, of course,” Calabane said, waving a hand dismissively. As he bowed and departed, Calabane looked over his shoulder at Hana and gave her a wink. “Such a good assistant. I don’t know why you were ever suspicious of him.” Hana ignored him, and Calabane chuckled and took another sip of his wine.

Immediately, Hana could tell that something was wrong. Calabane jumped out of his seat, clutching his throat and gasping for breath. Hana instantly pressed a button on her tablet, calling for medical aid, and then she rushed to him and began administering first aid. She eased him down onto the floor, pulled the first aid kit out from under his desk, and gave him a shot of coloteral to ease his breathing. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have any effect. The next thing she did was give him a shot of mistikal, which was an antidote to many common poisons. This didn’t have any effect either. Suddenly, she realized that he wasn’t breathing at all anymore. A sharp jolt of panic stabbed her heart, but she wasn’t ready to give up yet. Before she could do anything else, though, the door to the Supreme Commander’s office opened. Assuming it was her medical team, she didn’t look at the door at all, so she was not expecting to hear Ven Ron’s voice roar, “TRAITOR!”

Startled, she looked up, but before she could do anything, she was tackled by two burly security officers and swiftly handcuffed before she could retaliate.

To be continued…

A Sword of Ivy, Part 12

Being the head of the Supreme Commander’s security detail was surprisingly mundane, at first. Or perhaps it wasn’t so surprising. After all, an exciting day when you were trying to protect somebody from bodily harm would most likely be a very bad day as well. Still, Hana couldn’t help but feel a little disappointment at how boring her life was now. Even though she had plenty of work to do, it wasn’t the same as the work she’d done in command of Starfengt. She knew it was important, and she still did it with the same level of dedication and excellence as she’d done all of her work, but she couldn’t help but feel a little let down at how ordinary it all was.

There was also a little frustration involved in being responsible for the safety of an extremely intelligent and stubborn man. For example, now that she was in charge of Dren Calabane’s security, Hana felt obligated to share her vague suspicions of his personal assistant, Morken Velenoth. Unfortunately, Calabane had absolutely refused to allow Hana to do anything to investigate him. He’d said that he was completely and utterly convinced of Velenoth’s loyalty, and he didn’t want to hear another word against him. Granted, Hana had absolutely no proof that Velenoth was anybody other than who he said he was, but it was more than a little frustrating to not even be allowed to investigate.

After all, Calabane himself had said that Hana was the only person he could trust completely. If he really trusted Velenoth, why wasn’t Velenoth part of Hana’s security team? Nobody had more access to Calabane than Morken Velenoth, except for Hana herself. If he was really working for Ven Ron, he was perfectly positioned to eliminate Calabane whenever Ron decided.

So, Hana went ahead and investigated Velenoth in her spare time. She felt a little bad going behind the Supreme Commander’s back and doing something that he’d specifically ordered her not to do. But knowing she’d followed orders to the letter wouldn’t be much of a comfort if Ven Ron managed to seize control of Fangalin. Unfortunately, Hana had very little free time these days. The work she was doing may have been boring, but there was also a great deal of it. In addition to screening for threats and making sure the Grand Hall was secure, she was also investigating Ven Ron and the other members of his party on the Council. If she could find any dirt on Ron or his party, it would at least help undermine his campaign to overthrow Calabane.

But Hana was obsessed with finding something fishy about Velenoth. She just had this gut feeling that he was hiding something. Unfortunately, between her lack of free time, and Velenoth’s subterfuge, (or, Hana had to admit to herself, the fact that there wasn’t anything there to find), she hadn’t been able to find any proof that he was working for anyone except the Supreme Commander.

Aside from her lingering suspicions about Velenoth, things were going pretty good for Hana. Being an admiral certainly had its advantages, not least of which was a large, new apartment near the heart of Crez. It was by far the fanciest place that Hana had ever lived, and in fact, it was nice enough that it almost made her not miss being in command of Starfengt. Almost.

And that was the hardest part of her new position, by far. The people in Starfengt were the closest thing she had to family, and she missed them terribly. In theory, she could still contact them, but they had been sent off on an assignment in the Empire, and as she was no longer within the chain of command for Starfengt, she wasn’t privy to their assignments anymore, so she didn’t know where they were or what they were doing. And losing that connection with those people was far harder than she imagined it would be. Not only did she miss them terribly, but it was easy to imagine that they didn’t miss her at all. After all, she hadn’t heard from them at all since they’d held a going-away party for her, and, as far as she knew, they hadn’t given her a moment’s thought since that party. She knew it was a completely irrational thought, but she was also lonely enough that, when she didn’t have anything else occupying her mind, it was all she could think about.

Fortunately, moments when she didn’t have anything else occupying her mind were extremely rare. Between her work and her obsession with Morken Velenoth, her mind was usually pretty crammed full of thoughts and information. At times, it almost felt like being back at Imperial University, working with her friends to overthrow the corrupt rule of an unjust usurper, spending all of her time studying and researching, trying to find that one little piece of information that would make everything else fall into place.

But just as she was never able to find that one little piece during her insurrectionary days, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to find it now. If Velenoth was dirty, he’d covered his tracks extremely well. Here and there, Hana found bits and pieces that increased her suspicions about Velenoth, but nothing concrete. He’d had dinner with Ven Ron once, years before he became Dren Calabane’s executive assistant. One of the councilors in Ron’s faction was Velenoth’s sister’s husband’s uncle. Little things, that were enough to convince Hana that her gut was right, but not enough to convince Calabane to begin a formal investigation of Velenoth.

Even aside from Velenoth, her investigations into Ron and his party were also going nowhere. If Velenoth was an eel, then Ron was a mist. Even knowing that Ron was actively conspiring against the Supreme Commander, she was finding it very difficult to pin anything concrete on him. The most suspicious thing she could find was that one of his financial backers was based in the Empire. But that was hardly unusual. The Empire was riddled with Fangalin sleeper agents. No, she was going to have to find something much more nefarious than that, if Calabane was going to be able to remove him from the Grand Council. And time was running out.

To be continued..