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…