Everything was going according to Vor Shen’s plans. Ventelin’s announcement of the foundation of the Kingdom of Midigal had caused an uproar across the galaxy. Despite the fact that the Empire had been broken into several pieces for almost four years now, it still seemed shocking to some that anybody would dare break it up further, a testament, Shen supposed, to how solid and whole the Empire had been in the 350 years since the Nether War.
Fortunately, the uproar had been mostly limited to talk so far. Emperors Neminatrix IV, Valador I, and Malador VI had all issued statements condemning Midigal’s actions and making a lot of pious noises about “upholding the holy and sacred Empire”, as if multiple men fighting over the Imperial Throne didn’t defile the Empire just as much. Fangalin had officially ignored Midigal’s declaration, but had launched a few probing raiding parties against some of Midigal’s outer provinces, which had been easily repelled. And the Republic of Hadramoris had actually extended an offer of alliance, which Shen had hoped for but not really expected. So that was a pleasant surprise.
The real threat, at least in the short term, was Extrator IV, as Shen had expected. For all the talk from the other Emperors, their forces had not stirred so far, but Extrator’s had immediately begun to mobilize within hours of Ventelin’s announcement. All available information indicated that they were going to strike directly at Midigal, which made sense. If you were going to crush a rebellion quickly, it made sense to hit the heart of it, fast and hard. Unfortunately for Extrator, that was exactly what Shen wanted.
Everything was going so well, in fact, that Shen almost felt giddy. Or at least, he would have, if it wasn’t for Ventelin. No longer General Haasadis Ventelin, he was now officially His Majesty King Ventelin I, and his ego seemed to have grown proportionally. He had gone from treating Shen like a servant to treating him like a slave. It took all of Shen’s self control to keep from stabbing Ventelin in the neck during their frequent nude massage sessions. He just had to keep reminding himself that everything was in hand. Ventelin was still necessary. Once the IAF was crushed and the Kingdom was firmly established, then Shen could go through with his plan.
And what a plan it was. It made Shen feel genuinely giddy just thinking about it. During the chaos and confusion of fending off the Imperial Fleet, the two assassins that Shen had hired would sneak into the King’s hiding place and eliminate him. Shen would blame Imperial agents, and install Ventelin’s son, Granfilon, in his place. With a child as king, Shen could go back to being the power behind the throne, only with the official title of Regent this time. And who knew? Once his power was established enough, maybe it would be possible to remove Granfilon and crown himself. The Merchants’ Council certainly wouldn’t be able to stop him.
It was a delightful thought, almost enough to cheer him up as he faced the prospect of scrubbing the King’s royal toilet again. He had something akin to a spring in his step as he made his way up to Ventelin’s chambers. He may have even been smiling. But any hint of a good mood was snuffed out when he saw who was waiting for him in front of the King’s chambers.
It was Calaia Tromin, Ventelin’s new royal steward. If Ventelin treated Shen like a slave, Tromin treated him like a particularly nasty variety of slug. Tromin’s appearance was the only thing that was counter to Shen’s plans. Ventelin had appointed her to the post of royal steward with his first decree as king, an act which completely blindsided Shen. He had never heard of Calaia Tromin, and had done what he could to find out who she was and where she came from, but somehow her past was very well hidden.
It didn’t help that her treatment of him inhibited him from carrying out much research. She was constantly hounding him with demeaning little requests that took up a great deal of time but didn’t seem to have much purpose aside from that. He had thought about refusing her, as she had no legal or other kind of authority over him. But he needed to keep Ventelin happy, in order to keep him from getting suspicious about Shen’s plans. And keeping Ventelin happy meant keeping Tromin happy. Not that she ever was happy.
“Shen,” she said with a sneer, her voice dripping with contempt, and her eyes gleaming with sadistic delight, “it’s about time you dragged your worthless carcass up here.” She would have been beautiful if she wasn’t such a hateful person. Long, shiny dark hair, deep, blue eyes, and full, red lips were complimented by a lithe but curvy figure. Shen supposed that she was an object of lust for most men, but all he saw when he looked at her was a demon straight from the Nether Realms.
“I came as soon as I was called, Tromin,” he replied, trying, and failing, to keep contempt out of his own voice. “What pointless and demeaning activity do you have for me today?” She grinned evilly.
“Oh, nothing that would be too taxing for your pathetic little mind,” she said with a nasty chuckle. “I just need the access codes to your personal files.” She let that statement hang in the air for a moment. Shen’s jaw worked soundlessly as he stared at her incredulously.
“You cannot be serious!” he finally blurted out.
“Oh I am,” she said, “I have reason to believe that you have been…less than completely loyal to His Majesty the King. He has given me permission to obtain access to your files by any means necessary.”
“Impossible!” he practically screeched, “I won’t allow it! This is a violation of my rights and my privacy! I will resign my commission, and then who will defend you against the Empire!?”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” she said with a patronizing wink, “Go ahead and carry out your plans for the Empire. But once the IAF is defeated, you will hand over your access codes, or you will be thrown in prison.” He glared at her, fear and rage warring in his heart.
“Don’t be so sure about that, Tromin,” he said with quiet intensity, “You think you’ve beaten me, but I won’t go down so easily. You’ll be the one in prison in the end.” He turned and stalked away, but her mocking laughter followed him as he went.
To be continued…