Terrible Shadow, Part 9

Embamor Etralis was standing on the balcony outside of his quarters in the Imperial Palace. From where he was standing, he had a fantastic view of the city of Selorin, the capital city of the Trisitanian Empire. Selorin was an ancient but vibrant city. Selorin was born along with the Empire itself, founded by the first Emperor, Malador, in the aftermath of the titanic struggle known as the First War. Selorin had been the heart of the Empire since the very beginning, when the Empire encompassed no more than the planet of Trisitania itself. Everywhere General Etralis looked, brand-new technological and architectural masterpieces like the 220-story Trident Center intermingled with ancient and venerable buildings like the Senate Hall and the Hall of Lords. For all his cynicism and apathy, the skyline of Selorin was a sight that never ceased to amaze him.

The building that occupied most of his attention was the Senate Hall, for obvious reasons. The deliberations for choosing the new Emperor had begun several hours ago, and were expected to last for a few weeks. Every candidate was given the opportunity to make his or her case to the Senate, and there were no time limits on how long candidates could speak. Once a full round of speeches was finished, the Senate would decide whether or not to move on to voting on the candidates. If a majority of senators voted not to move on, each candidate would give another speech. If a majority of the senators did vote to move on, each senator would then cast a vote for their preferred candidate. Once all the votes were tallied, the candidate with the least votes would be removed from consideration, and the cycle would begin again, until there was only one candidate left.

This process had been consciously designed to be very deliberate. The last time the throne had been vacant, there were no set principles in place to choose a new Emperor, aside from the law that said the Senate was to do the choosing. The result was that no candidate received a majority of the votes, and the two leading candidates ended up going to war to decide the matter. Ever since then, the Senate had been determined to make sure such a result was no longer possible. There would be no ambiguity over who won this election.

General Etralis had a live feed set up so he could view the deliberations from the comfort of the Palace, but he wasn’t particularly interested in listening to speeches. He didn’t need to make up his mind about who he wanted to win. He was afraid that he had backed the wrong horse, though. Hesha Vorlan’s support had grown under his influence, but not nearly enough to overtake Shayban Drahzen’s. He had known the risks though. The best case scenario if he’d supported Drahzen was that he’d maintain what he already had. By supporting Vorlan, he had a chance to gain so much more. And if she lost, then he would retire. That wouldn’t be such a terrible prospect at this point in his life.

These thoughts were swirling in his head when he realized that something was wrong. He felt a strange sensation, almost as if reality itself was being twisted and warped. He stared at the Senate Hall, because that’s where the sensation seemed to be emanating from. Suddenly, he realized that something was indeed very wrong. The Senate Hall was collapsing.

He stared at the sight of the massive and ancient building crumbling into dust with his mouth hanging wide open. Then there was a blinding flash, and he closed his eyes and threw up his arm to shield himself. A split second later, he was thrown backwards into his bedroom as a massive shockwave erupted from the Senate Hall. His head bounced off the floor as he landed, but fortunately the impact was softened by the thick carpet that covered the floor. He lay there for a second, blind and deaf from the explosion, and slowly shook his head to clear it. Then, as sight and hearing returned to him, he slowly got up and moved back toward the balcony.

What he saw appalled him. The Senate Hall was gone. In its place was a massive crater, and a gigantic mushroom cloud billowing up over the city. The buildings surrounding where the Hall had been were severely damaged as well. In fact, the Trident Center, the second tallest building on the planet, after the Imperial Palace itself, looked as if it were in danger of collapsing. Etralis stood there, shocked and appalled by the devastation, for several minutes, unable to process what was going on.

Just then, Lieutenant Ven Aganar rushed into his quarters. He ran up to the General, and then stopped, staring in horror at the same sight that had Etralis immobilized. Then he shook his head and looked up at Etralis.

“General Etralis!” he said, saluting, “The Legion of the Heart awaits your orders!” Etralis just stood there, staring in numb horror at the mushroom cloud that towered even over the Imperial Palace itself. Finally, after a long moment, he slowly turned to face Aganar and just stared at him.

“Sir?” Aganar said, tentatively, “Do you have any orders, sir?” But the General didn’t respond. He couldn’t respond. His brain was paralyzed by the shock of what he’d just witnessed. Aganar just stood there, feeling ever more foolish with every passing moment. Finally, he decided to take the initiative.

“Do you want the Legion to sweep the Palace and make sure there aren’t any more bombs hidden here?” he asked. The General continued to stare at him, and then, painfully slowly, he nodded his head once. Aganar quickly saluted and rushed out of the room, unsure whether he was more eager to get away from the sight of the ruined Senate Hall or the sight of the shell-shocked General.

Etralis went back to staring at the mushroom cloud after Aganar left. There were no thoughts in his addled brain. Everything in his world had just been turned completely upside down. He had no frame of reference for dealing with a tragedy like this, so he did nothing but stare at it.

After about a half an hour, a thought did occur to him. He turned away from the apocalyptic scene in front of him, went to his dresser, and pulled out his trusty flask of whiskey. Then he took a long, deep drink from it, and went and sat in his favorite plush recliner. And there he sat, staring at the mushroom cloud and waiting to see if any other thoughts came to him.

To be continued…

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