Erelesk Votalin stood on the third floor balcony of his home in an upper-class district of Heretoral, the capital of the province of Infanalis, basking in the glow of a rare sunny day. He was shirtless, and his well-oiled, perfectly muscled torso shone in the sun. Taking a deep breath, he let it out and grinned happily. Everything was going so well. The weather was good, the sun was shining, birds were singing, and a traitor was slowly dying a few feet behind him.
A low moan attracted Votalin’s attention, and he turned around to peer into the open door behind him. On the opposite side of the room was a person chained to the wall. This particular person’s body was so badly broken and bleeding that one would have been forgiven for believing that he was dead, but in actuality, he still clung to life, barely. Votalin grinned widely as he realized this, and cracked his knuckles loudly as he reentered the room.
“Oh, Haskev,” Votalin said brightly. “You’re still with me! How delightful. I was thinking that maybe the fun was all over.” He strode over to his victim, and spent a few moments perusing a wide selection of torture instruments carefully arranged on a nearby table. “Hmmm…I think this one will be good,” he said, picking up a long, gleaming, slightly curved knife. “Sometimes you just have to stick with the basics.”
He hummed cheerfully to himself as he got to work. A couple of times he lost track of the melody he was humming because it was drowned out by the pained groans coming from Haskev, but he didn’t mind. He actually couldn’t remember what Haskev had done to deserve this kind of treatment, but he was sure that it was deserved. Votalin had very deep-seated moral convictions against torturing anyone who didn’t deserve it. Of course, he also strongly believed that everyone deserved torture for something, so it was pretty easy for him to hold to that conviction.
Votalin stood up and put the knife aside as Haskev passed out again. He so hated practicing his art on anyone who couldn’t appreciate it. He strode back onto the balcony and basked in the sun again. Gazing out over the city, he smiled warmly at the sight of all the people out appreciating the nice weather. Warm, sunny days were a rarity on Infanalis, so people here took full advantage of them when they came.
They were his people, whether they believed it or not. Although he had never sat on the Imperial Throne or even set foot in the Imperial Palace, he was the Emperor. He didn’t know how long it would be before he could land on Trisitania and enter the Palace in triumph, to take his rightful place on the Throne, but it didn’t matter. He was the Emperor, and that was all there was to it.
On the planet Numoris, in a large and luxurious mansion on the outskirts of the city of Votara, Dren Calabane was reading in his study. A member of the Fangalin High Council, Calabane was a busy man, and rarely had time for anything as mundane as sitting and reading for pleasure, so when the opportunity came, he took it. Ever since the assassination of Embamor II, Calabane’s power and influence had grown considerably, and he was now unquestionably the second-most powerful person in Fangalin, and the clear successor to Supreme Commander Zhemeen Fortulis. Although, Calabane sometimes wondered if he would actually outlive Fortulis. Even though Fortulis was 87 years old, he was as healthy and strong as he’d ever been, and showed no signs of slowing down.
It was now five years since the Emergence, when Fangalin agents had destroyed the Imperial Senate Hall during a session to determine who would succeed the recently deceased Empress. That act had eliminated the top level of the Imperial government, and thrown the galaxy into chaos, allowing Fangalin to emerge from hiding and begin the effort to conquer the galaxy in earnest. Many Imperial provinces had already been secretly converted to Fangalin even before the Emergence, and most of the Empire’s colonies, including Numoris, had actually been founded by Fangalin. Combining that with a swift string of victories against the Imperial Fleet, Fangalin now controlled about a third of the known galaxy.
The Empire still retained control over another third, and unfortunately that third included all of the galaxy’s richest, most populated, and most powerful provinces. But even that was divided among four men who all claimed the title of “Emperor”. The one who actually occupied the home province of the Empire, Trisitania, was named Jimalin Redlamin, and he referred to himself as Extrator IV. There was also General Erelesk Votalin, aka Emperor Neminatrix IV, based on Infanalis, General Valador Mifalis, Valador I, who was based on Sevvelin, and Vibal Trogoron, Emperor Malador VI, based on Nemixis. So many names, so many competing claims…it was hard to keep it all straight.
The remaining third of the galaxy was divided up by two independent states, the Republic of Hadramoris and the Kingdom of Midigal. Both of these were created by ambitious leaders seeking to take advantage of the chaos of the months and years following the Emergence. None of the leaders of Fangalin had expected such a turn of events, but it was seemingly a good thing so far. The more pieces that the Empire fragmented into, the easier it would be for Fangalin to absorb them all and fulfill its destiny of ruling the galaxy.
Things were progressing more slowly now, however. Ever since Commander Fortulis had ordered the assassination of Embamor Etralis, Fangalin had largely sat back and watched events unfold. Not that Fangalin had been completely idle, of course. One of Calabane’s own agents had been instrumental last year in the death of Vor Shen, a remarkably brilliant but utterly unprincipled Midigalan general. And there were other operations, of course.
Fangalin was an organization that had been born and nurtured in the shadows on the fringes of galactic civilization. In the wake of the Emergence, Fortulis had made a valiant effort to shift into a real government that made open war with other real governments, but the reality of the situation was that even with a third of the galaxy under their control, the people and structures of Fangalin were still better suited to covert operations. So, Fortulis was playing to the strengths of the organization he ruled. It was a strategy that Calabane fully approved. It was unlikely now that the war would be completed in Fortulis’s lifetime. But maybe Dren Calabane would become the Supreme Commander under whom Fangalin attained its greatest triumphs.
To be continued…