The Bull and the Hyena, Part 17

Vor Shen stood on the bridge of the cruiser Destiny, hands clasped behind his back, looking out at the majestic view of the planet Midigal displayed on the screen in front of him. His plan had worked perfectly so far. The Imperial fleet had taken heavy losses before it fled like a dog with its tail between its legs, and 200,000 Imperial troops were entrenched in the city of Grendemar, arrogantly thinking they could hold out against what the Midigalans were about to unleash on them. Shen couldn’t help but grin.

His chief assistant, Chefeel Garronis, known to some as Verdek, came up to him as he stood there. At first glance, she might have looked a little out of place, as she was wearing civilian clothes on a military vessel. But if one looked at her eyes, it was obvious that she had the authority and the presence to command anyone onboard, including Vor Shen himself. She did not look happy, but then, she rarely did. It wasn’t until she spoke that Shen realized there was a reason for her to look unhappy this time.

“General, I have some bad news that needs to be delivered in private,” she said pointedly. Shen frowned, and motioned to her to follow him to his quarters.

“Please tell me that Ventelin is dead, and this bad news has to do with some other matter,” he said, turning to face her as the door slid shut behind them, a hint of pleading in his voice. She shook her head sternly.

“Unfortunately, as far as I can determine, the assassins I hired never showed up at Ventelin’s villa,” she said. Shen swore loudly and slammed his fist on the desk.

“You told me they were the best!” he bellowed. “You told me there was no possibility that they would fail!” Garronis arched an eyebrow at him.

“I never told you any such thing,” she said coolly. “In fact, I believe I explicitly informed you that these two were untrained and inexperienced. I told you we should try to find someone with more seasoning, but you were concerned about the expense.” Shen glared at her angrily, but he held his tongue. She was right, of course.

“So, what then?” he growled.

“We pretend that nothing happened, and we wait for another opportunity,” she replied.

“And what if Ventelin turned them, and knows we tried to kill him?” Shen asked.

“We pretend that nothing happened, and we wait for another opportunity,” she repeated irritably. “Ventelin needs you. You’re too great an asset to be squandered, even if you are trying to kill him. And maybe he’ll treat you with greater respect, now that he knows what you’re capable of.” Shen frowned and stroked his beard thoughtfully.

“Interesting,” he said. “Yes, I can see your point. Very well then. Maybe our goals can be accomplished without Ventelin’s death. I would be content to continue to be the power behind the throne, as long as I have all the power.” He made his way to the door. “All right then. Let’s deal with the matter at hand. We have an occupation to end.”

***

General Hoshic was nervous. It had been six hours since the Imperial fleet had retreated from the skies over Midigal, and still the Midigalan fleet did nothing but circle the planet silently. All of his troops were still on alert, waiting to repel the Midigalan assault, but all this waiting was leading to increased tensions and frayed nerves. Hoshic himself felt like he had his emotions under control, but he still had that nagging feeling that he’d missed something, and the lack of action by the Midigalans wasn’t helping matters. He couldn’t imagine what he might have missed, though.

As soon as the Midigalans had moved into orbit, he had contacted them and informed them that he had the Merchants’ Council and would place them in an exposed location where they would likely be killed in the fighting, unless negotiations began. He thought maybe that negotiating would at least stall them for a little while, buying the Emperor time to send a new fleet to relieve them, but the Midigalans had not responded. So, he had ordered the councilors moved to the top floor of the Council Hall. If the Midigalans thought he was bluffing, he would prove them wrong.

He himself had transferred his command post to a former Imperial army base near the edge of the city. It was a heavily fortified and easily defendable position, and the Council Hall was the opposite. Exposed and vulnerable, it would almost certainly be destroyed during the course of the battle, no matter how hard the Midigalans tried to avoid hitting it.

He yawned and stretched his arms up over his head. All this waiting was really wearing on him. It would have to be worse for the men and women out in the field, who had no idea when the hammer would fall, and they would have to start fighting and dying. Not that Hoshic thought himself immune from death, but he was much less likely to die in this battle than the grunts on the front line.

A sudden, deafening explosion outside jolted Hoshic out of his thoughts. There were no windows in the room where he was standing, so he couldn’t see what had happened, but the explosion was powerful enough to shake the building and knock Hoshic off his feet.

“How in the Nether did the Midigalans manage to begin their attack without anyone noticing?” he bellowed to his aides in the room.

“General!” yelled a lieutenant. “They’re bombing the city from orbit!” Hoshic froze, as the last piece of the puzzle clicked into place in his head. Of course. It was so brilliantly simple, he should have seen it all along. Vor Shen let the Imperial Army occupy Grendemar and seize the Merchants’ Council because those things were expendable. Vor Shen was going to sacrifice a city to wipe out a sizable chunk of the Empire’s military force, and the king’s main internal political rival. Hoshic had been a blind fool. And now he and his troops were going to pay the ultimate price for his foolishness.

To be continued…

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