“We need to move quickly if this is going to work,” said Hana Lodimeur. “We need to have firm control of the Palace before Redlamin’s troops get here, or else we’ll be crushed between them and the Legion of the Heart. If we can gain control of the Palace, we’ll be in a defensible position and we’ll be fairly well armed as well.” Lodimeur was standing in the command tent with Veshryk Jilorin, Niven Umior and a fourth member of the core group, Shilmek Aladia. They were all looking at tablets that contained various materials related to their plans: maps of the Palace, maps of the surrounding area, news reports, messages from friends in the Imperial Fleet, and so forth.
“That’s fine,” said Aladia, “but how do we actually get into the Palace? We have the advantage of numbers, but none of us are soldiers, and we don’t have many weapons either. The Palace will be a great place for us to hole up, but that’s true for the Legion as well.” Aladia was tall and willowy, with long but wispy blonde hair. She had large, luminous eyes and mannerisms that made her seem dreamy and unfocused, but in reality she was the most pragmatic and down-to-earth person in the group.
“That is the question, isn’t it?” said Jilorin with a sigh. He ran a hand through his thick brown hair, leaving it sticking out at wild angles. He was small, mousy and unassuming, but he had a certain charisma that tended to make people want to follow him and dedicate themselves to his cause. “It sucks that we don’t have better maps. I mean, I know why we don’t. But seriously, this would be so much easier if we knew where, say, the Legion barracks were.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have time to come up with a solid plan, anyway,” said Lodimeur with a scowl. “All we can really do is rush the gates and hope that the weight of our numbers overwhelms the Legion. Then we hunker down and try to hold off Redlamin for as long as we can.” Lodimeur, like the rest of them, had no direct military experience, but both of her parents were officers in the Imperial Fleet, so she at least had been exposed to military tactics.
“That’s insane!” said Umior angrily. “We don’t know much about the Palace’s defenses, but we know they have heavy machine gun turrets mounted at the main entrance. If we just try to rush in there, it’ll be a massacre!”
“It’ll be a massacre if we just sit here and wait for Redlamin!” shouted Lodimeur, her eyes flaring. “At least if we try to take the Palace, we’ll have a chance! If we don’t, we’ll be obliterated! I don’t know how many troops Redlamin has, but I’ll bet it’s a lot more than two thousand! And Redlamin is not going to brook ANY opposition to his rule! He’s not a pushover like Finegal. He won’t have any qualms about killing a hundred thousand civilians if he thinks it’s the right thing to do.”
“You seem to know an awful lot about Redlamin,” Jilorin said quietly. Lodimeur turned her glare on him for a few moments, and then sighed heavily, her expression softening.
“My father was stationed on Bliddle a few years ago, before the war started,” she said wearily, “He was Redlamin’s chief military advisor. Trust me, I know Redlamin better than I want to. He sees the world in terms of black and white. Something is either good and must be accomplished at all costs, or bad and must be stopped at all costs. If Redlamin thinks that the One is calling him to be Emperor, only his death will keep him off of the Throne.” She frowned down at the map in front of her.
“Well, wait,” Aladia said, “are you saying that we need to kill Redlamin in order to win? How are we going to do that?”
“I don’t know what I’m saying,” Lodimeur said quietly. She continued to stare down at the tablet in front of her, while her friends just watched her. Then she looked up, the fire in her eyes replaced with despair. “We’re all going to die, aren’t we?” she whispered.
This caused a variety of reactions from her friends. Aladia gasped and covered her mouth in shock, Umior yelled, “No! We’re going to win!” in a too-loud voice, but Jilorin’s expression barely changed, aside from a narrowing of his eyes and a tightening of his lips. Lodimeur made eye contact with him, and it was obvious they were on the same page.
“You’re right,” he said quietly, eliciting a louder gasp from Aladia and a louder exclamation of denial from Umior. “We are going to die. We have superior numbers, but we have no training and hardly any weapons. And how reliable are our numbers? There are a hundred thousand people in the plaza right now, but how many of them will storm the Palace with us? How many will just slip away into the city when the fighting starts? No, we have no hope.”
“But it doesn’t matter,” he continued, his gaze and voice suddenly as hard as iron. “I have to do this anyway. I have to stand up for what’s right and what’s good, even if it costs me my life. I can’t, and won’t, make anyone go with me. I have no right to tell you to give up your life for this cause. But I’m going, and I’ll go alone if I have to.” There was silence in the tent as Jilorin finished speaking, and then, one by one, all three of them nodded in agreement. As soon as they did so, another member of the group came into the tent.
“We’re all set,” he said, “Everybody’s ready to go.”
“Okay,” said Jilorin firmly. “Then let’s do this. And remember: no matter what happens today, we stand for the Empire, and for the people.” All of them nodded, and then they left the tent, their faces showing mingled fear, excitement, and determination.
To be continued…