The Solitude of Death, Part 4

The Imperial province of Midigal was an unremarkable province. Not too rich, not too poor. The population was about equal to the Imperial average. It didn’t export anything to make Emperors and Supreme Commanders lust over it, but it also didn’t need to import much. Settled over 500 years ago, it wasn’t one of the oldest provinces in the Empire, but nor was it one of the newest. It was just…average.

Haasadis Ventelin had plans to change that. At 35, Ventelin was one of the youngest generals in the Imperial Army, a beneficiary of the decimation of the top of the military command hierarchy when the Senate was destroyed. But he had much bigger ambitions. A native of Midigal, Ventelin had always loved his home province, and he had always yearned for the opportunity to bring greatness to it. And the chaos that had gripped the Empire in the wake of the Fangalin uprising was the perfect opportunity.

General Ventelin stood on the bridge of Burning Axe, the flagship of his small task force. Burning Axe and two other cruisers were under his command, and he had been ordered to raid Fangalin provinces. Instead, he and his men had gone to the Midigal sector to carry out a grander mission.

Originally, Ventelin had thought to aim for the Imperial throne, and then move the capital of the Empire to Midigal, but there were too many ambitious generals in the Empire right now for that to be a realistic idea. Instead, Ventelin decided to set his sights a little lower: instead of becoming an Emperor, he would make himself a King. And Midigal would be his kingdom.

“General,” said Captain Horv Lazhamar, commanding officer of Burning Axe, “We are about to reach our destination. We will be dropping out of subspace in five minutes.”

“Very good, Captain,” General Ventelin said in a deep, booming voice. Haasadis Ventelin was a man’s man. He was over six and a half feet tall, with wavy black hair that went past his shoulders, and a thick beard that extended to his waist. He was 300 pounds of pure muscle, with fists almost as large as an average man’s head. In his short but brilliant military career, he had already developed a reputation as a generous and jovial companion, and a ruthless and implacable enemy.

His plan was simple: from this small task force of three Imperial cruisers, he would build a mighty fleet that would sweep away the token forces defending Midigal and the other provinces in its sector. While he was doing that, he would be sending emissaries (and himself) to the leaders of Midigal and the nearby provinces to convince them that he would do a better job protecting them from the Fangalin terrorists than the Empire could do.

The task force dropped out of subspace on time, and there on the screen was what he was hoping and expecting to see: another Imperial task force, this one made up of five cruisers. These cruisers were commanded by General Vorlemask Shen, a fellow Midigalan, and Ventelin’s chief co-conspirator. General Shen outranked General Ventelin in the Imperial military, but Ventelin was the more beloved of the two, and Vor, as he was known to his friends, was more interested in being the King’s right hand than being the King himself.

“We’re receiving a message from Terrible,” said one of Ventelin’s lieutenants. Terrible was Shen’s flagship.

“Put it on the screen,” replied Ventelin, and the main screen was filled with an image of Vor Shen’s wizened face.

“Vor, you old man!” roared Ventelin with delight, “What a surprise to find you here!” Vor Shen was a silent, somber man, in almost every way the complete opposite of Ventelin. When he heard Ventelin’s greeting, a small, almost imperceptible smile crossed his face, and then was gone. For him, this was the equivalent of a normal man laughing boisterously.

“General Ventelin,” he said with a slight incline of his head, “Considering that you requested my presence here, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see me.” Haasadis Ventelin let out a booming guffaw, and slapped Captain Lazhamar’s back jovially. Lazhamar staggered and coughed, clearly not expecting Ventelin’s sudden outburst of amusement.

“Ah, Vor,” Ventelin thundered, “You pretend you don’t have a sense of humor, but I see right through you, you old scoundrel.” He laughed and slapped Captain Lazhamar again, and this time the poor Captain collapsed to the ground. “Anyway, enough fooling around. We need to get down to business. Between you and me, we have eight heavy cruisers, but we’re going to need more. Ahmarik Dron has six cruisers under his command, and I’m expecting him to arrive here in two days. Have you spoken to Admiral Locatine yet?”

“I have,” Shen responded, “He is most amenable to our proposal. He should be here in three days.”

“Good!” bellowed Ventelin, “With his cruisers, we’ll have almost a quarter of what’s left of the Imperial Fleet. That oughta be enough. The next step is to approach the civilian government.”

“That process has begun as well,” Shen said, “I have sent emissaries in your name to the governors of Midigal, Dalamaris, and Trifelimoor. If the governments of those three provinces are amenable to your rule, every other province in this sector will follow. And if they aren’t, then your reign will end before it starts.” Ventelin frowned at this.

“Are you sure that the men you sent are trustworthy?” he growled, “And persuasive? Maybe I should go to Midigal myself.” Shen shook his head.

“That would be a very bad idea, my friend,” he said forcefully, “If you approach the Midigalan government directly, you’ll look desperate. Better to deal with them from a position of strength. You don’t want them to know that you need them. You want to make them think that they need you.”

“They do need me!” Ventelin roared, “The Empire won’t save them from the terrorists!”

“I am aware of that,” Shen said with a weary sigh, “but that doesn’t mean they see it. Civilians are always blind when it comes to threats to their security.” Ventelin thought about this for a second, and then suddenly laughed loudly, smacking Captain Lazhamar to the ground again.

“Very good!” Ventelin yelled with delight, “You’ve done great, old man. How about you and your officers come on over to Burning Axe and we’ll have a feast!”

“That would be wonderful, General,” Shen said, inclining his head slightly. “We’ll be over in two hours.”

To be continued…


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