Terrible Shadow, Part 5

Zhemeen Fortulis sat at his desk in the governor’s mansion on Numoris, gazing out of the giant window that took up the entire wall opposite his desk. The window gave Fortulis a spectacular view of Crez, the capital city of Numoris. Fortulis was not officially the governor of Numoris, but he ruled Numoris nonetheless. He was the Supreme Commander of Fangalin, and Fangalin had run Numoris in all but name for 300 years.

Fortulis was in his early 80s, but in remarkably good health for his age. He was short and round, with a small fringe of white hair around the edge of his otherwise bald head, but he moved and talked with an astonishing energy that belied his age and looks. He wasn’t moving or talking at all at the moment, though. He was thinking.

The news had come to Numoris two days ago that the Empress was on her deathbed. This was the news Fortulis had been waiting for ever since he was elected Supreme Commander by the High Council 40 years earlier. He had immediately contacted Ahsken Lorovic, Director of Security for the Imperial Senate and a loyal Fangalin officer, and ordered him to begin preparations for Operation Thunderclap. That was the code name that Fortulis had chosen for the plan to decapitate the Empire, a plan that had been in the works ever since it became obvious that Emella II was going to die without any heirs.

Destroying the Senate while they were deliberating on who should be the new Emperor would cripple the Empire. Without a Senate or an Emperor, the Empire would have no way to react to Fangalin’s offensive, and that, combined with the considerable penetration Fangalin had made into Imperial society, could lead to the war ending before it really got started. If all went according to plan, Zhemeen Fortulis would go down in history as the greatest Supreme Commander of Fangalin since Wellin Votara himself.

His thoughts were interrupted by the intercom buzzing. “Yes?” he said quietly.

“My Lord,” his aide answered, “We have received a message from Captain Lorovic.”

“Put it through,” Fortulis commanded. A hologram of Lorovic’s head appeared in front of Fortulis, hovering in mid-air.

“My Lord,” Lorovic began, “Preparations for Operation Thunderclap are complete.”

“Excellent,” Fortulis responded, “Make sure that you do not detonate the bomb until the full Senate has met.”

“Of course, my Lord,” Lorovic said with a nod, “I have also made sure that only people loyal to you and the Presence are assigned to the area where the bomb is hidden. There is no possibility of the heretics finding it.”

“Very good,” Fortulis said with a pleased smile, “You have done well, Captain. Your reward will indeed be great once the operation is a success.” Lorovic nodded again with a small smile, and Fortulis added, “You are dismissed.” The hologram of Lorovic’s head disappeared, and Fortulis sat back with a satisfied look on his face.

The Empire’s days were numbered now. The purity and strength of Fangalin’s faith would surely lead them to victory. The Dark Presence would once again reign over all Creation, and the rule of Fangalin would be glorious and eternal. And Zhemeen Fortulis would be remembered as the one who began it.

***

Shayban Drahzen was more displeased than he should have been. He was sitting at his desk in his office in Selorin, the capital of the Empire. He was a small man, with a round, clean-shaven face. He had short, brown, messy hair, and he wore small, round glasses. He was in his early 40s. He didn’t look the part of the most powerful Senator in the Empire, but that was part of his charm. His mild manner and easy-going personality made him more likable than the average politician, but at the moment, the small smile he usually wore on his face was replaced by a scowl.

The Empress’ condition was getting worse, and her doctors had just announced that she was unlikely to last through the night. Assuming they were correct, tomorrow the Senate would meet for the first time to deliberate on the question of who would become her successor. Every Senator in the Empire was already on Trisitania, waiting for the Empress to die so they could begin their most important duty. This should have been Shayban Drahzen’s ultimate moment of glory, the moment when House Drahzen ascended to the Imperial Throne. But already, before deliberations had even begun, he could feel the moment slipping away.

There were ten senators, three generals, two admirals, and four provincial governors who had all submitted their candidacy for the soon-to-be vacant throne. Considering that it had been over 400 years since the last time the throne was up for grabs, Drahzen was surprised that there weren’t more candidates. Anyone who wasn’t a senator, general, admiral or governor was automatically barred from consideration by Senate rules, but there were still hundreds of people who occupied those offices. The fact that more people didn’t apply was a testament to how assured Drahzen’s victory was. Or at least, had been.

Until a few days ago, none of the other candidates had had the slightest chance of winning the Senate’s approval. But somehow, within the past few days, Hesha Vorlan had begun stealing away votes that were previously Drahzen’s. Senator Vorlan had always been his bitterest rival, but until the last few days, he had never seen her as a credible threat to his ambitions.

He could see Embamor Etralis’ dirty fingers all over this development. Despite his drunkenness and laziness, that man had more connections and influence than anyone else in the Empire. No doubt he had decided that he would get more out of Vorlan’s election to the throne than he would out of Drahzen’s. Drahzen wondered what she had promised him to get his support.

In any case, it didn’t matter. Hesha Vorlan was deeply unpopular in the Senate, a result of her snobbish manner and elitist behavior. It would take more than Embamor Etralis and his cronies to stifle Shayban Drahzen’s ambitions. He had been working towards the throne for his entire life. When he was 13, it became obvious to him that it would become available in his lifetime. He had dedicated his life at that moment to becoming the next Emperor, and he was so close now. In just a few days, he would finally be able to achieve that which he’d spent his entire life working toward, and he would not allow a snob and a drunkard to rob him of that which was rightfully his.

Something would have to be done.

To be continued…

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