A Song of Sorrow, Part 18

The news of the battle on Trisitania caused a variety of reactions, depending on where in the galaxy it was received. Throughout what was left of the Empire, it was received with dismay. For those people who just wanted peace and stability, the spectacle of rival Emperors fighting over the Palace showed how distant that dream was. For the other men who claimed the Imperial Throne and their supporters, it was mixed news. The elimination of a rival was good news, but all three factions were distraught that the weakest one was first to go, and disappointed that they hadn’t gotten to the capital first. They were also somewhat dismayed that Jimalin Redlamin now held the Throne and the capital, as he was a much more formidable opponent than Adlamor Finegal.

In the rest of the galaxy, the reaction to the news was more positive, but still mixed. The President of Hadramoris and his advisors were pleased that the Empire was fracturing further, but were also concerned that a more competent man now sat on the Throne. As for the leadership of Fangalin, they were mostly satisfied with how their plan to sow chaos in the Empire was proceeding, but there was some disquiet that a pair of foolish Emperors had been replaced with a somewhat less foolish Emperor.

The Supreme Commander of Fangalin, Zhemeen Fortulis, and his chief advisor, Councilor Dren Calabane, were discussing how their plans had proceeded so far, and debating what their next move should be.

“Well, all things considered, this operation has been a success for us, although it could have gone even better,” said Calabane, looking down at a tablet showing a variety of news reports from the Empire.

“Indeed,” replied Fortulis, “The high casualties in the battle for the Palace definitely pleases me, and the destruction of the Legion of the Heart will probably make it easier for us to assassinate Emperors in the future. I wouldn’t have minded if Finegal had remained on the throne for more than a few months though. I can only imagine how much more the Empire would have fractured if that dolt had held on for a few years.”

“I doubt that Jimalin Redlamin will be a great Emperor though,” Calabane said, “He’s decisive, and reasonably smart, but he’s also extremely stubborn and superstitious. I think we can use those traits against him.”

“That’s good to know,” Fortulis said, “What about the other contenders? Is there one that we would rather see on the Throne? It would be harder to remove Extrator than it was to remove Embamor, but I think it could be done. We still have several sleeper cells in the ISS.”

“I’d have to investigate further,” Calabane said, “Valador Mifalis is patient and methodical. He won’t be easy to manipulate, but also has a small following, and is unlikely to ever attain the Throne, especially given his age. Erelisk Votalin is vain and cruel, but he’s also a brilliant tactician and strategist. A formidable opponent, but not without weaknesses that we could exploit. And Vibal Trogoron…well, he’s actually got a lot of similarities to Mifalis; patient and meticulous, but younger and fantastically wealthy. He’s got an even smaller following though, and no military experience, so it remains to be seen how he’ll do as a commander.”

“What a rogue’s gallery,” Fortulis said with a smirk, “Well, it may not happen in my lifetime, but the Empire’s fall seems inevitable at this point. We have done well, my friend.” He lifted his drink towards Calabane, and Calabane picked up his and clinked it against his leader’s.

***

Haasadis Ventelin was passed out in his massive bed, naked, a beautiful young woman on either side, when the news of the battle on Trisitania came to Midigal early one morning. He had been up all night, celebrating a great political victory. He had finally convinced the ruling body of Midigal, the Merchants’ Council, to secede from the Empire and accept him as their King, and a tremendous party had been held in his honor. Ventelin, true to his reputation, had drank more and boasted louder than any other man present.

He had left strict orders not to be disturbed except in an emergency, but his aides had decided that the Imperial Throne changing hands probably constituted an emergency, so they took the calculated risk of waking him. After all, if they didn’t wake him, and he later decided it had been an emergency, he would be just as enraged as if they had woken him for something that he didn’t consider an emergency.

The buzzer on the door rang at least ten times before Ventelin finally stirred. He groaned, roughly shoved the girls aside, and stumbled to the door without putting on any clothes. Once it opened, the aide who rang the buzzer blanched, and then kept his eyes firmly locked on his lord’s.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “there’s urgent news out of Trisitania!”

“It had better be damned urgent for you to be waking me!” Ventelin roared, and then groaned, closed his eyes, and clutched his head. The aide smirked a little while Ventelin wasn’t looking. Ventelin was feared, but he was neither liked nor overly respected, and many of his aides were disgusted by his excessive drinking and womanizing.

“There has been a battle on Trisitania,” the aide said, and that caused Ventelin to stop moaning and look up. “Jimalin Redlamin has executed Adlamor Finegal and taken the Imperial Throne. The Legion of the Heart has been destroyed, but the new Emperor’s forces have taken heavy losses as well.”

“Hmmm,” Ventelin said, stroking his beard, “This is big news indeed. You did well to wake me. Summon my generals and the Merchants’ Council. We need to decide what to do in the wake of this information.” The aide bowed and rushed off.

Ventelin smiled to himself as he got dressed. The moment he’d been waiting for was almost here. The Empire was collapsing in on itself rapidly. Soon, he would openly proclaim the Kingdom of Midigal, and there would be nothing the Empire could do about it.

The End

A Song of Sorrow, Part 17

General Izik Hoshic was at his new desk in the Imperial Palace, reviewing casualty figures from the recent battle with the Legion of the Heart. His office, the office of the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Armed Forces, was spacious and luxurious, but he barely noticed it. He was absorbed by a deep and near-crippling grief as he went over the names of the deceased. It was taking him a great deal of time. There had only been about two thousand soldiers in the Legion, but they had occupied a heavily fortified position and were well trained. Of the fifty thousand soldiers that Emperor Extrator IV had taken to the Imperial Palace, approximately ten thousand of them were dead.

Hoshic tried to comfort himself with the knowledge that he had warned the Emperor that attacking the Palace was a bad idea, but it was a hollow comfort. He should have done more. Of course, all he really could have done was refuse to follow the Emperor’s orders. In that case, the Emperor would have had him executed and replaced, and the battle would have still gone ahead. But at least Hoshic would have gone to his grave knowing that none of the blood was on his hands.

He didn’t know what to do now. He had drafted a resignation letter, and was ready to submit it to the Emperor, but something held him back. He thought maybe that resigning was the coward’s way out, that he would be shirking his responsibilities to his soldiers if he did that. Maybe the best way for him to atone for his sins was to remain as Supreme Commander, and promise to henceforth put the welfare of his men ahead of his own safety and wellbeing.

***

As Emperor Extrator IV settled himself down into the Imperial Throne for the first time, his expression didn’t change, but a deep sense of satisfaction, of rightness, filled him. This was where he belonged. This was where he had spent his entire life preparing to be. He gazed about the Grand Hall of the Imperial Palace and smiled slightly. All was as it should be.

The Grand Hall was, as befit the very heart of the galaxy, a glorious and magnificent space. It was shaped like a long rectangle, with high ceilings, huge windows, and was lined by ornately carved columns. It was so long, in fact, that a teleporter was installed by the entrance to bring those who had an audience with the Emperor directly to him, as it was too great a distance to be reasonably traveled on foot. The teleporter itself was an engineering marvel. It was the only one of its kind in the galaxy, as it was extravagantly expensive to install and maintain. But nothing was too extravagant for the Imperial Palace.

The spaces between the columns were normally filled by members of the Legion of the Heart in full dress uniform, but as the Legion had just recently been destroyed, those spaces were instead taken up by members of Extrator’s army in combat uniforms. Extrator had yet to decide if he was going to rebuild the Legion or not.

There were two people in particular whom the Emperor wanted to meet with this morning. The first of these came through the teleporter in chains, accompanied by two burly guards who had him by his upper arms. It was Adlamor Finegal, failed claimant to the Imperial Throne. He was bruised and battered, and his scraggly, unwashed hair fell over his downcast face. He was thrown roughly onto his knees in front of the Emperor.

“Adlamor Finegal,” the Emperor said gravely, “You are charged with high treason for unjustly impersonating the Emperor. How do you plead?”

“Guilty,” rasped Finegal, his voice suffering from disuse, “I am guilty of the charges against me. Please have mercy on me, Your Majesty.”

“Your plea is accepted,” the Emperor replied, “I hereby pronounce judgment on you. For your crimes, you are sentenced to be executed immediately.”

“What!” screamed Finegal, lifting his head to stare directly at the Emperor, his eyes full of terror and panic. “I was told that if I plead guilty, you would be merciful! This can’t be happening!”

“Indeed, I am merciful,” intoned the Emperor, “Your death will be quick and painless, and this very day you will have the opportunity to confess your crimes directly before the throne of the One. What greater mercy could there be?” With that, the Emperor gestured for the guards to take him away, and they grabbed him by the arms and dragged him, still screaming, through the teleporter.

The second person emerged through the teleporter soon after. This was Jefmin Lakatai, Master of the Imperial Secret Service. Lakatai was just under six feet tall, and overweight without being obese. His black hair was slicked straight back, and he had a little mustache, but was otherwise clean-shaven. He carried himself with a swagger and an arrogance that made the Emperor instantly dislike him.

“Your Majesty,” Lakatai began with a little bow, “it warms my heart to see that you have arrived safely. I’m so pleased that you received my message and were able to take care of the traitors with so little trouble.”

“I’m not sure that I would call the deaths of ten thousand soldiers a ‘little trouble’, but it is true that we were able to take care of the problem,” the Emperor said drily, “I am pleased to see that you are so willing to pledge your loyalty to me. It would be problematic if, on top of all my other duties, I had to find a new Master as well.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Lakatai said oily, “You will find that there is no one in the Empire more loyal than myself.” If Lakatai caught the implied threat in the Emperor’s words, he didn’t show it.

Extrator was already starting to wonder if he had made a mistake trusting Lakatai. There had been no indication of a plot against him in any of the Legion’s records, so either they hid it very well, or Lakatai had lied to eliminate a rival organization. Extrator was beginning to wonder if the battle for the Palace had been a horrible, bloody mistake. It was a terrible thought, and the Emperor hoped it wasn’t true, but either way, he would have to keep a close eye on Jefmin Lakatai.

To be continued…

A Song of Sorrow, Part 16

As his armies drew near to the Imperial Palace, Extrator could see that there was still a sizable crowd of civilians in the courtyard around the Palace.

“Captain, how many people do you estimate are in that crowd?” he asked the pilot of his shuttle.

“I’m not sure, Your Majesty,” the pilot responded, “Maybe…twenty thousand? Thirty thousand? It’s hard to tell.”

“Hmmm…,” mused Extrator, “But you would be confident in saying that it is less than fifty thousand?”

“Fairly confident, Your Majesty,” the pilot said, confusion evident in his voice.

“Very good, Captain,” Extrator said. The crowd had dwindled since he had first arrived at Trisitania. That was good, as he preferred to keep the casualty count as low as possible. He pressed a button on a nearby control panel to activate the intercom. “General Hoshic, order your men to open fire on the dissidents outside the Palace.”

“Your Majesty?” came Hoshic’s voice in response, “Are you sure that’s wise?”

“What have I said about questioning me, Hoshic?” Extrator said in a dangerously quiet voice.

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” Hoshic said, sounding contrite, “I will give the order right away.”

Extrator folded his arms and prepared to watch the slaughter. He would have preferred to not kill unarmed civilians, but challenges to his rule could not be tolerated. The people of Trisitania would learn that the power of the Imperial Throne was not to be trifled with.

***

Veshryk Jilorin and Shilmek Aladia stood and watched the dropships approach in a sort of paralyzed stupor. Jilorin knew that he should do something, anything, other than just stand there and watch death approach, but his body seemed unable to react to his mind’s commands. The dropships drew closer and closer, and just as they got close enough to start firing, Jilorin finally did something.

“RUN!!!!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. But it was too late.

A thousand dropships, armed with two heavy artillery cannons apiece, opened fire all at once, and destruction rained down on the crowds of people in the courtyard. Somehow, the first wave of shells left Jilorin himself unscathed, but Aladia was not so lucky. As Jilorin watched, shrapnel from a nearby explosion tore her apart, leaving behind a bloody corpse. She hadn’t even had time to scream.

Jilorin didn’t wait to see if he would be lucky again. Without even looking to see if anyone else was still alive, he ran. He made his way to the main gate of the Palace as fast as he could, twice narrowly avoiding death at the hands of an artillery explosion. He slipped through the gate, and hugged the wall around the courtyard, hoping to make himself as small a target as possible.

He made his way to the corner of the wall, the sickening sounds of artillery explosions continuing to come from inside the courtyard. By contrast, Citizen’s Plaza was empty, and almost eerily quiet. It looked like Jilorin was the only person to make it out of the courtyard so far.

He knew he wasn’t safe yet, though. He could see the dropships hovering overhead, belching fire and death into the courtyard. All it would take would be for one soldier to see him hunkering down against the wall, and he would be dead, just like his friends. He cursed himself for his cowardice, for running and leaving his people behind. But at the same time, he praised the mercy of the One, for allowing him to hold onto his life against all odds.

All at once, the guns stopped firing, and a horrible silence fell over the courtyard, broken only by the screams and moans of the people inside who were not quite dead yet. Jilorin was still trying to process what this meant, when the doors of the dropships and thousands of soldiers began jumping into the courtyard and the Plaza, using the thrusters on their jetpacks to slow their fall.

Jilorin knew that his luck had run out, but that didn’t stop him from trying to cling to life. He thought that if he could maybe get out of the Plaza, he could get lost in the narrow streets and alleyways of Selorin. So he started running as fast as he could.

“Halt!” yelled a commanding voice from nearby. Jilorin didn’t halt, however. In fact, he ran faster, faster than he had ever run before in his life. It wasn’t fast enough, though. A hail of bullets erupted from behind him. Most of them missed him, but one caught him in the thigh. He stumbled and fell to the ground, his face smashing on to the pavement.

He struggled to get up, spitting out blood and a tooth as he tried to rise, but the pain in his leg was too great, and he fell back down again. A shadow fell over him, and he rolled over on his back to see a masked soldier standing over him, aiming an assault rifle at his face. He tried to cry out, to plead for mercy, but the soldier pulled the trigger. There was a deafening roar, unfathomable pain, and then darkness.

***

Deep in the bowels of the Imperial Palace, the soldiers of the Legion of the Heart gripped their rifles a little tighter as they heard the sounds of artillery explosions coming from outside. There had been very little chatter among them before the explosions began, and as soon as the noises began, a grim silence had fallen among them.

General Vodic held a rifle and was hunkered down behind a barrier between a sergeant and a corporal. This wasn’t a battle where the generals could hide in a command center while their troops fought and died at their orders. No, General Shana Vodic would fight alongside, and die alongside, her troops.

A thunderous explosion echoed through the halls of the Palace, causing a few soldiers to jump, grasp their rifles even tighter and mutter a few choice swear words. The Emperor’s troops must have blown open an entrance to the Palace. It would only be a few more minutes before the battle began. An eerie silence fell over the barracks as the soldiers of the Legion awaited their doom.

To be continued…

A Song of Sorrow, Part 15

“Five minutes until we reach the Palace, Your Majesty,” said the pilot of the command shuttle. His words were directed to Emperor Extrator, who was standing behind him with General Hoshic. Extrator nodded, a look of grim satisfaction on his face. There would be much death today, and although Extrator took no pleasure in death in and of itself, he did take pleasure in doing what he believed to be the will of the One, and he believed the deaths that took place today would be the will of the One. Those who followed him would have the privilege of dying in the service of the One, and those who opposed him, well, their deaths would satisfy the justice of the One.

“Your Majesty, please reconsider this madness,” said General Hoshic, an uncharacteristic note of desperation in his voice. “It is not wise to launch a full-scale assault on the most defensible complex in the galaxy without more information, especially when we don’t even know if those who hold it are our enemies!”

“I have made my decision, Hoshic,” Extrator said coldly, “It is not your responsibility to try and change my mind. Your only duty now is to carry out the will of your Emperor. If you feel that you cannot do that, I will replace you with someone who can.”

“You are my sovereign,” Hoshic replied, “I will do whatever you command me to do. I only wish that, in this instance at least, your command was something else, something more…sensible.”

“Enough,” Extrator said in a quiet voice that was laced with malice, “You are skirting dangerously close to treason. If I wanted your opinion, I would ask for it. Since I did not, your duty is to keep silent and obey. Is that understood?” Hoshic nodded with a sour expression on his face. “Good. You are dismissed.” Hoshic turned and walked out of the cockpit, leaving Extrator to watch through the viewscreen as the Palace loomed larger.

***

Veshryk Jilorin had never imagined that it would be possible to feel tense and bored at the same time, but that was the only way to describe how he felt as he stood in the courtyard outside the Imperial Palace. All around him, his people milled around, still trying to find some way into the Palace. The crowds were much thinner than they had been at the start. Jilorin estimated that maybe twenty thousand people remained in the courtyard, still a substantial number, but a small fraction of the one hundred thousand or more who had been camped out in Citizen’s Plaza during the weeks prior. The longer he and his people roamed the courtyard, futilely looking for a way into the Palace, the more people thought better of this endeavor and drifted off.

“This definitely isn’t happening the way I expected,” said Shilmek Aladia, who was standing next to him.

“That’s an understatement,” Jilorin replied, “What do you think is going on in there? Did something happen? Are they all dead? Are they hoping that we just get bored and wander off? I just don’t get it!”

“I don’t have any idea,” said Aladia, “I don’t really care anyway. Maybe that’s the right idea. Maybe we should just ‘wander off’. How many hours have we been here? If there’s a way into the Palace, don’t you think someone would have found it by now? I think we’re in way over our heads, Vesh.”

“We can’t just give up,” Jilorin said with determination, “We’ve come this far. There’s no such thing as an impregnable building. There must be a way in, and we will find it.” Aladia frowned and opened her mouth to speak, but then she closed it again with a puzzled look on her face. Jilorin looked at her inquisitively, but a few seconds later he heard it too. It was the sound of thousands of dropships approaching the Palace.

“Oh, no,” Jilorin whispered in horror, a sentiment that was mirrored by the stricken look on Aladia’s face, “We’re too late.”

***

When General Vodic’s tablet beeped to inform her of an incoming message, she knew what it would say before she looked at it, but she looked at it anyway. The message was only two words, but those two words somehow managed to convey immense levels of fear and panic. They’re coming!!, it said, and it had been sent by one of the scouts that Vodic had placed on the upper levels of the Palace. No more information was needed. It wasn’t as if there was much strategy that could be utilized in such a one-sided battle.

The Legion was holed up in their barracks. It was not the most easily fortified location in the Palace, but the two areas that were more secure (the ISS office and the command center) were unavailable, and in any case, the barracks was more familiar to the members of the Legion anyway. The Legion had very few advantages in the coming battle, but one advantage they did have was that the Palace arsenal was extremely well stocked. The barracks had two entrances, and three heavy machine guns had been placed to cover each entrance, with enough ammo for each to last several hours. Each soldier had an assault rifle and a pistol, and as much ammo as they could carry. They also had a dozen grenades apiece, although those wouldn’t be much use in the narrow confines of the barracks.

The fear that Shana Vodic had felt earlier was mostly gone now, replaced with a grim numbness. She had made her peace with death. Although dying in battle was something that she, strangely, had never considered before, it was a fitting death. Certainly better than dying alone in a bed of old age. This way, she was going to go out in her prime, in a blaze of glory, surrounded by her comrades. It was not what she wanted, but it was what she was getting, and she would accept it.

To be continued…