Terrible Shadow, Part 1

Ahsken Lorovic walked the halls of power as if he owned them, and in some ways, he did. As Director of Security for the Imperial Senate, he had full access to every area of the Senate Hall. Of course, to refer to the Senate Hall as the “halls of power” was something of an exaggeration. Most of the real power in the Empire belonged to the Imperial Throne. The Senate mostly existed to give the Emperor or Empress a sense of what the people were thinking and feeling. However, there was one critical power that the Senate possessed. This was the power to appoint a new Emperor or Empress whenever the current Emperor or Empress died without an heir.

The throne was currently occupied by the House of Melforia, but it’s 600-year long tenure was about to end. The current Empress, Emella II, was 78 years old and on her deathbed. She had no children (indeed, she had never married), and so by Imperial law, the Senate had the authority to chose her successor once she died. The doctors that were attending her had announced that she had no more than a couple of weeks left, so the Senate was assembling so that they could carry out what was perhaps their most important duty.

This made things very busy for Ahsken Lorovic. The last time the Senate had met to choose an occupant for the Throne, almost exactly 600 years ago, the result had been civil war. Neither General Amelina Galrax nor Senator Shellina Melforia had been able to garner enough support in the Senate to claim the Throne, and so they had marshaled armies and fought it out on the battlefield. The war lasted three years, and ended with Senator Melforia becoming Empress Shellina II. This time, the Senate was determined not to let that happen, so the leaders of the Senate had ordered Director Lorovic to beef up security and make sure that the proceedings ran smoothly.

This meant lots of extra work for Lorovic, but he didn’t particularly mind. The death of Emella II was something that he, personally, had been anxiously awaiting. It was a perfect opportunity for something that Lorovic and his companions had been working on for a long time.

Lorovic was a member of Fangalin. About 350 years ago, in the aftermath of the Nether War, a young Nether sergeant named Wellin Votara had been determined not to let the ideals of the Nether disappear, and had founded a successor group called Fangalin, which meant “terrible shadow”. Votara recognized that the Nether had failed because it wasn’t powerful enough to take on the might of the Empire at its height. Fangalin needed to hide in the shadows, and grow stronger, and wait for the Empire to exhibit a moment of weakness. One of those moments that Votara had identified was the death of a childless Emperor.

It was a pretty simple plan, really. The moment an heirless Emperor died, there would be no Emperor and no one readily available to take his or her place. All of the potential successors would be gathered in one spot. Therefore, all that needed to be done was to obliterate the Senate Hall. The entire Senate and many of the top generals and bureaucrats and provincial governors would be gathered there, which would effectively decapitate the Empire in one fell swoop. As Director of Security for the Senate Hall, Lorovic was in a perfect position to carry out this plan.

The plan had been conceived hundreds of years ago, but it was only in the past 40 years or so that the real preparations had begun. As Emella II passed her fortieth birthday without any sign that she was pregnant or going to get pregnant, the Supreme Commander of Fangalin, Zhemeen Fortulis, realized the time was right. He made sure that the Imperial Secret Service was fully stocked with loyal Fangalin operatives, so that there would always be someone in place to carry out the plan no matter when the Empress died. Lorovic often chuckled to himself when he thought about the fact that his boss, ISS Master Dren Folmor, thought he ruled the ISS with a iron fist, when in reality it was Zhemeen Fortulis who really called the shots.

In fact, Fangalin in general had done a very good job over the centuries of laying low. The ISS certainly was aware of Fangalin’s existence, and classified them as a terrorist organization, but they were by no means considered the most dangerous of the dozens of organizations so classified by the ISS. As someone who walked on both sides of the line, Lorovic knew exactly how wrong the ISS was.

Now that the day of the Empress’ death was drawing near, Fangalin was getting ready to emerge from the shadows for the first time in 350 years. In about half the provinces of the Empire, the governor and/or the top generals or other leaders were actually members of Fangalin. Once the Empire was leaderless, these officials were prepared to seize control of their provinces and begin the true war against the Empire.

After all, creating an empire alongside the Trisitanian Empire was not Fangalin’s ultimate goal. No, the ultimate goal was to destroy the Trisitanian Empire and replace it with the Fangalin Empire. Only then would the work of the Dark Presence be complete. This was the mission that every member of Fangalin was sworn to carry out.

Lorovic got chills just thinking about it. His entire life, he had been dedicated to this goal. Coming out of hiding and commencing an open war with the Empire was just one step, but it was a very important step. With luck and the blessings of the Presence, perhaps it would be the most important step. Maybe the Empire would be so crippled by this blow that the war would be over quickly. But even if not, Lorovic and his fellows would eventually triumph. It was their destiny.

To be continued…

To Break the Galaxy, Part 9

Briella Melforia stood on a balcony, looking out over the vast expanse of Selorin, the capital city of the Trisitanian Empire. Massive skyscrapers stretched thousands of meters in the air, but the vantage point on which the Empress stood towered over them all. The Imperial Palace was the heart of the Empire, physically and figuratively. The Senate liked to think that it ruled the Empire, but the true power was in the hands of the Empress and her staff.

Not that the Senate didn’t play an important role. Every province in the Empire was represented by two Senators, and those Senators were elected by the citizens of the province. The Senate had little real power, but electing Senators made the people feel like they had a role to play in running the government. This, in turn, made them a little easier to control, and a little less likely to rebel.

Of course, power was subjective. Her position as the most powerful individual in the galaxy hadn’t kept the Nether from forming, nor had she been able to prevent an 11 year long war with them. For all her power, she sometimes felt as if she couldn’t do any more to influence events than any other individual.

Briella heard a sound, and she turned to see her husband, Prince Vandin Melforia. Prince Vandin was a couple of years older than her, and where she was cultured, refined, and skilled at the art of saying what people wanted to hear while really saying something else entirely, Vandin Shelagor Melforia was rugged, blunt, and told people exactly what he thought. This habit had made him quite a few enemies among the Imperial elite, but it was that trait which the Empress most appreciated about him. It was important for a leader to have somebody who was comfortable telling her when she was wrong.

“Ah,” she said, “what news do you bring, husband?”

“I have some news from Yebifar,” he said, “An update on the former Nether soldiers living there.”

“Oh really?” she said, a twinge of alarm entering her voice, “What sort of news?”

“Oh, nothing bad,” he replied quickly, “just a minor update. All of the former Nether soldiers are settling into their new surroundings quite nicely. Unfortunately, two of them were killed in a mining accident a few days ago.” He handed his wife a tablet. She scanned its contents quickly, and then looked up at her husband.

“Wellin Votara and Mektemar Felnen,” she said, “Do we have any reason to suspect foul play in this incident?”

“Not really,” Vandin replied, “There was only one eyewitness to the incident, a miner by the name of Trel Solum. Strangely, he disappeared soon after the incident, but the authorities on Yebifar have found no evidence that he was in any way responsible for what happened. Apparently, he was very good friends with both of the former soldiers.”

“Hmmm,” Briella said, “I wonder if it would be worth tracking down this Trel Solum. It seems odd to me that he would disappear if he had nothing to hide.” Vandin frowned and shook his head.

“I doubt it,” he said, “Maybe his disappearance was simply a matter of not wanting to be around a place where two good friends were killed. It’s not like he was told to stick around. Besides, mining accidents happen all the time. The only reason you’re hearing about this one is because it involved two former soldiers of the Army of the Dark.” Briella sighed and returned to looking out over the city.

“I suppose you’re right, husband,” she said, “Maybe I’m just being paranoid.”

Of course, it was useful for an Emperor or Empress to be a little paranoid. After all, the most powerful person in the galaxy inevitably had many enemies. But it was also possible to be too paranoid. Not everyone was an enemy. The trick was finding the right balance.

Her father had made the mistake of being too paranoid. His obsession with obliterating the Black Legion had come close to bringing about the collapse of the Empire. It was good for everyone that he was removed from power. But the generals who orchestrated his downfall hadn’t been paranoid enough. They believed the Black Legion and its ilk were utterly toothless, and so had created an environment that nurtured the growth of the Nether.

How would Empress Briella II be remembered? It was unlikely that she’d be remembered for being too paranoid. But by proclaiming an amnesty for the defeated enemies of the Empire, was she being not paranoid enough? Would her actions lead to a new uprising that her son or grandson would someday have to face? There was no way for her to know.

“Okay,” she said, “I agree that we don’t need to put a great deal of resources into searching for this man. But I do think we should be watching out for him. Order the ISS offices on Yebifar and the surrounding provinces to keep an eye out for Trel Solum. Tell them that they don’t need to go out looking for him, but if they happen to come across him, make sure they detain him. I find it very suspicious that he would disappear so soon after this ‘accident’.” Prince Vandin saluted by placing his fist on his chest and bowed in acquiescence.

“As her Majesty commands, so shall it be, as always,” he responded, with a touch of mockery mingled with respect. Briella glanced at him with a wry smile, and he smiled back. Then he departed to pass on her commands, and she returned to gazing out at the great city of Selorin.

There was no way to tell what the future held. The Empire could last for 10,000 years, or it could crumble in 10. All things were possible, and all Briella could do was play her part. What irony, though. The most powerful individual in the galaxy, and yet she felt as though she had no more power to affect the course of history than a humble miner.

The End

To Break the Galaxy, Part 8

When Wellin Votara approached his foreman and asked to be transferred back to Mektemar Felnen’s work crew, the foreman rolled his eyes and sighed, but did as Votara asked. Clearly, in the foreman’s eyes, Votara and Felnen had gotten over their little spat and were friends again. Nothing unusual about that.

After several more weeks of preparation, Votara and Trel Solum finally found an opportunity to put their plans into effect. Management wanted to open up a new shaft, and Votara and Solum volunteered to be the ones to open it. They asked Felnen to be on their work crew. He was a little unsure at first, but Votara and Solum had been quite friendly with him over the past few weeks, and he had no suspicions that anything was wrong.

The work on the new shaft was uneventful at first, but after a few hours, the floor caved in beneath Votara and Felnen, and they were once again trapped at the bottom of a pit. Solum did not fall in, so Votara called up to him to go for help. Solum ran off, leaving Votara and Felnen alone.

“Wow,” Felnen said, sitting down on the bottom of the pit, “What are the odds that this would happen to us again? You see why I didn’t want to be on this work crew?” Votara was silent, causing Felnen to look up at him curiously.

“Hey, Wel,” Felnen said, “What’s up? Is something wrong? I mean, other than being stuck at the bottom of a pit?” Votara remained silent and continued to stare at Felnen for several minutes. “Um,” said Felnen uneasily, “you’re kind of starting to freak me out, man.”

“What would you say,” Votara said finally, “if I asked you to help me bring down the Empire?” Felnen looked startled, and then angry.

“This again, Wel?” he said, exasperated, “I thought we were over this! I thought you’d seen the error of your ways! The Nether is dead! Why would you bring this up again?” Votara closed his eyes and sighed.

“I would never abandon the Dark Presence, Mek,” he said quietly, “I swore an oath to serve the Presence with my entire being, and I will not betray that oath. You should have known that.” Felnen swore and stood up.

“I can’t believe you, Wel,” Felnen growled, “Stop clinging to a lost cause! The Dark Lord failed! He was defeated! You’re wasting your time, and your life!” Votara turned away from Felnen and bowed his head.

“I’ll ask you one last time, Mek,” he said, so softly that Felnen could barely hear him, “Will you join me?”

“Never!” yelled Felnen, “I have given my allegiance to the Empire and to the One! I have forsworn any oaths I might have made to the Dark Lord! I am done with him!” Votara sighed again and pulled something out of his pocket. It was a float pack.

“I’m sorry, Mek,” he said, and activated the float pack. Felnen’s jaw dropped.

“Wait a minute,” he said as Votara began levitating out of the pit, “Wait! What are you going to do? You can’t just leave me here! Wait! Votara! Stop! Come back!” But Votara didn’t stop, and he didn’t come back. He floated up to the top of the pit, where Solum was waiting for him.

“Is everything ready?” he asked, ignoring the increasingly desperate cries coming from the pit. Solum nodded. “Let’s do this, then,” Votara said.

Solum pulled a small rectangular box out of his pocket and pressed a button it. There was an explosion, and a large pile of rock came loose from the wall above the pit and fell down into it. There was a roar of noise as several tons of rock crashed into the pit, and then silence. No more cries came from the bottom of the pit. Votara closed his eyes, took a deep, shuddering breath, and then opened them again. Solum looked as if he was going to be sick.

“There is no turning back now, my friend,” Votara said. Solum just nodded. “Do you have my new ID?” Solum pulled a tablet out of his pocket and gave it to Votara. Votara turned it on and examined the contents, and then gave a satisfied nod. “Excellent. Remember, Mektemar Felnen and Wellin Votara died in a mining accident. I am now Shrev Longarin, from Aduaria. Got that?” Solum nodded again. “Good. Now all I have to do is get out of the mine without anyone seeing me, and get to the spaceport. We’ll meet there in four hours. Okay?” Solum nodded a third time, still looking as if he was going to vomit. Votara put his hands on Solum’s shoulders and looked him in the eye.

“Hey,” he said intently, “Look at me.” Solum did. “We did the right thing, Trel. Sacrifices must be made in the service of the Presence. If we hadn’t killed him, he would have turned us in, and this would all be for nothing. Okay?” Solum stared at Votara for a few moments, and then nodded again.

“You’re right,” he said softly, “You’ve always been right. I’m ready. I’ll be fine.” Votara looked into Solum’s eyes intently for a few more minutes, and then nodded.

“Okay,” he said, “Remember: four hours. As soon as the foreman has finished the accident report and let you go home for the day, come to the spaceport. I’ll be waiting for you.” Solum nodded and turned to walk away, and then he looked back.

“This is really it, isn’t it?” he said, “The day of rebirth for the Nether has come at last.” But Votara shook his head.

“No,” he said firmly, “No. Felnen was right about one thing. The Nether is dead, and it’s not coming back. We are not the Nether anymore. We are something new.”

“Something new?” Solum said, puzzled, “What are we then?” Votara thought for a moment.

“Fangalin,” he said finally, “We will be called Fangalin.” The look of puzzlement on Solum’s face grew deeper.

“Fangalin?” he said, “What does that mean?”

“In the Ancient Tongue, on Trisitania before humanity traveled among the stars, it meant ‘terrible shadow’,” Votara said, “We will be shadows, hiding in the darkness until the moment is right, and then we will burst forth, breaking the galaxy with our terrible fury and remaking it in the image of the Dark Presence.” A look of awe came over Solum’s face, and then he shook himself.

“Right,” he said, “Okay. I’ll meet you at the spaceport in four hours.”

To be continued…

To Break the Galaxy, Part 7

Wellin Votara approached Trel Solum the next day about moving in with him. Solum seemed enthusiastic about the idea, but Votara still worried that Solum was really an Imperial agent. But, if that was the case, it was too late to do anything about it. Votara expected that if Solum was an Imperial agent, he would wait and see if Votara led him to any other worshipers of the Dark Presence, so Solum would have to prove his loyalty to the Presence before Votara would try to recruit any. If Solum was an Imperial agent, Votara was the only one he would snare.

Over the next few weeks, Votara slowly revealed as much of his plan as he had figured out. Solum continued to act interested, and even added suggestions to improve the plan. Votara felt like he could speak freely in Solum’s apartment. Solum had been born and raised in the Empire, and as far as Votara could tell, had never given the Empire any reason to doubt him. The arm of the Imperial Secret Service was long, but they couldn’t monitor every single person in the entire galaxy.

Votara did his best to avoid Felnen. He went to his foreman and asked to be transferred to a different crew than Felnen. The foreman seemed a little surprised, but didn’t challenge Votara’s request. In the mines, you had to be able to trust the other members of your work crew, or things could go terribly wrong. Management had no interest in making people who didn’t like each other work together.

As time went on, Votara and Solum worked to flesh out their plan, slowly getting it to the point where they felt like they could proceed. Things seemed to be going smoothly. They liked each other and worked well together. They would often spend evenings after work with their heads together in Solum’s small living room, going over ideas on tablet computers and checking the internet through an encrypted connection in order to figure out what they wanted to do. And that’s where they were one evening when someone knocked on the door.

Solum and Votara immediately went into action, picking up all of the tablets that contained their plans and hiding them in a secret compartment under the couch. With all of the potentially incriminating evidence hidden, Solum went over and looked through the peephole.

“It’s Felnen!” he whispered to Votara.

“Felnen?” Votara repeated, incredulous, “What does he want?”

“Should I let him in?” Solum asked, still whispering.

“Yeah,” Votara said, thinking fast, “He knows we’re here. There’s no point in trying to keep him out.” Solum opened the door.

“Hey, Mek,” he said, trying and failing to act like he was pleased that Felnen was there.

“Hey, Trel,” Felnen said, giving him an odd look, “Do you guys mind if I come in?”

“Oh no, not at all,” Solum said, still obviously faking enthusiasm. Felnen walked in and Solum shut the door behind him.

“Hi, Mek,” Votara said calmly.

“Hey, Wel,” Felnen replied. He hesitated, took a deep breath, and then said, “Look, I know you guys are wondering why I’m here, so I’ll just get right to the point. I know I said I’d leave you alone and let you do your thing, but I’m really worried that you’re getting to the point of no return. So, I’m here, as your friend, to plead with you two to just give up your crazy schemes and focus on the life you have.” Votara regarded him with a thoughtful look, while Solum stood behind him with a sickly grin on his face.

“I have to say,” Votara said slowly, “that I really appreciate the concern you’ve shown for us. It takes a brave man to confront his friends when he thinks they’re doing something wrong. I commend you for that, Mek.” Felnen brightened slightly.

“Really?” he said, “So you’ll give up your plans and settle in to your new life here?”

“Well, I’ll have to think about it,” Votara said, “but you make a persuasive argument. After all, this plan probably isn’t going anywhere. How could a couple of miners on a backwater planet far from the core overthrow the entire Empire? I probably should just embrace my new life.” Solum’s jaw dropped, and Felnen broke into a grin.

“Hey, that’s better than I expected,” he said cheerfully, “Cool. So, do you wanna go down to the pub for a few drinks?” Votara shook his head.

“No, I think I need to stay here and talk things over with Trel,” Votara said, “But thanks for the offer. Maybe another night.” Felnen wilted slightly, but continued smiling.

“Okay, well, I’ll get going then,” he said, “I hope you guys have a good talk.” Solum and Votara said their goodbyes, and then Felnen walked out the door and Solum closed the door behind him. Almost as soon as the door was closed, Solum whirled around and glared at Votara.

“What was that all about?” he said angrily, “You would betray everything we’re working for just like that? I’ve committed myself to the Dark Presence and I’ve been preparing to sacrifice the only life I’ve ever known, and now I’m supposed to just give that up? What are you doing to me?” Votara gave Solum an irritated look.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he snapped, “Of course I’m not betraying anything. I just said that to get Felnen off our back. How do you think he would have reacted if I’d said ‘no, we are committed to bringing down the Empire’?” Solum frowned and thought about that for a second.

“I suppose you’re right,” he said with a sigh, “I hate to lie to him though. I wish we could get him on our side.” Votara shook his head.

“He’s too committed to the Empire now,” he said sadly, “We’re not going to be able to get him to join us. In fact, I think we’re going to have to kill him.”

To be continued…