Catching the Sun, Part 8

Ilena Hemetal had been sitting in her bedroom staring at her tablet for at least 15 minutes, trying to read something without having any idea what it said. She was reading to try and distract herself from the activity she knew was happening down the hall from her, but it clearly wasn’t working. She finally took a deep breath, tossed the tablet on her bed, and stood up to stroll over to the window and stare out at the rare sunny, blue sky that was lighting up the city of Heretoral.

She knew that, in many ways, she was incredibly lucky. Born a commoner on a planet dominated by the nobility, her marriage to Lorgad Hemetal had opened up opportunities that she couldn’t have dreamed of as a child. It didn’t hurt that Lorgad himself was a wonderful man, with whom she was deeply in love. But being a noble meant obligations as well as privileges, and one of those obligations was to take advantage of every possible opportunity to enhance the wealth, prestige, and power of one’s house.

For Ilena Hemetal, as for so many others in her situation, that obligation meant sharing her spouse with another. Under Imperial law, a person could only be married to one other person at a time. So in order for House Hemetal to make a marriage alliance with House Votalin, Ilena had been forced to, at least legally, give up her husband. It was a decision that she and Lorgad had made jointly, and up until now, it hadn’t really changed anything. Although a commoner by birth, Ilena’s marriage to Lorgad Hemetal made her officially a member of House Hemetal (which did not change now that she and Lorgad were legally divorced), and so she had an obligation to do whatever she could to benefit the House. It was a sacrifice she had been willing to make, but until now, she had been able to convince herself that Lorgad and Shala wouldn’t necessarily need to consummate their marriage.

Erelesk Votalin’s imminent attack on Endragar changed everything. Every sign indicated that his assault would be successful, and if so, House Votalin would occupy the Imperial Throne in truth. That greatly increased the advantage House Hemetal would gain from their alliance with House Votalin, and as Shala was the heir to the Throne, it was prudent for Hemetal to make sure that Shala got pregnant. Any children that Shala had would also be in line to inherit the Throne, and although such children would be members of House Votalin, not Hemetal, there still would be a connection with Hemetal that would greatly be to their benefit.

Ilena knew all that. She knew it was her duty as the spouse of the head of House Hemetal to sacrifice for the good of the House. She knew Lorgad loved her, not Shala, and she knew that Shala was as much a slave to duty as she was. But none of that made the waiting any easier.

She started as the door to her bedroom opened behind her. Whirling around, she was surprised and pleased to see Lorgad entering the room. If he was back so soon, maybe she had refused him. Just as quickly though, she felt ashamed of her pleasure. Her duty to her House needed to come before her own personal feelings.

“Back so soon?” she said, trying to keep the glee out of her voice.

“So it would seem,” he said wryly. “It turns out that the situation is a bit different than we anticipated, and out plans will have to be altered accordingly.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, puzzled.

“Thanks to the tender care of her father, or rather, the lack thereof, Shala Votalin is unable to have children,” he said, and plopped down in his favorite chair with a heavy sigh. Ilena put her hands up against her mouth in horror.

“Oh, that poor child,” she whispered. And just like that, all of the resentment and jealousy she’d harbored toward Shala Votalin disappeared, to be replaced by sympathy and compassion.

“Undoubtedly,” Lorgad said, rubbing his eyes wearily. “I want to do something to help her, but I don’t know what that could be. I hesitate to do anything that would be construed as defying Erelesk. He is a violent and capricious man, and I do believe he still considers Shala his property. I suspect that he has been coming here without my permission and in secret to continue his abuse, but I have no proof of that, and I dare not confront him without rock solid evidence. Even then, I’m not sure I’d dare, now that he’s on the verge of having the full might of the ISS behind him.”

“We need to do something, though,” Ilena said, arms folded across her chest in determination. “What if it was as simple as moving her quarters? If we did it secretly, not only would she be safe the next time he shows up, but we might even be able to catch him.” Lorgad frowned thoughtfully.

“I agree with the first part of your plan,” he said, “but I hesitate to endorse the second. House Hemetal has thrown its lot in with that of House Votalin wholeheartedly. If it became public knowledge that Emperor Neminatrix IV was an incestuous child molester, it might cause a backlash that would bring down both our houses. Assuming Erelesk lets us live long enough to go public.”

“Hmmm,” Ilena said with a scowl. “I suppose you’re right. I hate to let that pig get away with his crimes, but we’ve kind of boxed ourselves in here, haven’t we?” She sat down next to him with a weary sigh. “By the One, I hate this game we play sometimes.”

“The game of Houses?” Lorgad asked with a smirk. “Well, that’s the price you pay for marrying a noble. Are you saying you regret marrying me?”

“Never,” Ilena said, kissing him lightly on the cheek. “I wouldn’t go back to being a commoner for anything. Promise me one thing, though?”

“Anything,” he said with a tender smile.

“Do whatever you can to keep Erelesk Votalin away from his daughter,” she said, gazing at him earnestly.

“In the name of the One, as long as it doesn’t endanger you, our children, or House Hemetal, I will do it,” he replied solemnly.

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 7

Princess Shala Votalin sat alone in her darkened bedroom, staring through a small slit in the heavy curtains which covered the windows. It was daytime outside, a bright, sunny day, the sky a brilliant blue, unbroken except for a few puffy clouds. But inside, it was dark and dreary. Shala preferred it that way. The gloom of her bedroom matched the gloom of her soul. And yet, she couldn’t seem to look away from that small patch of bright sunlight.

Princess Shala had not been born a princess. She had had that title thrust upon her five years ago, when her father declared himself Emperor after the death of the old Empress. As far as she could tell, it didn’t mean anything. Her father’s behavior toward her hadn’t changed at all once she became a princess. Nor did anyone else’s. In a way, she was grateful. She’d suffered her father’s abuse for her entire life. She didn’t know anything different. She sometimes felt that, if that abuse ever came to an end, she wouldn’t know how to handle it.

Today was her wedding anniversary. As of today, she had been married to Lorgad Hemetal for two years. Not that that meant anything, either. She could count on one hand the number of times she’d seen Lorgad since their wedding. Their marriage was purely one of political expediency. She didn’t mind being ignored, though. Her father had always been the only person to pay attention to her, and his attention was such that being ignored was much preferable.

She continued to sit and stare out the window as the door to her bedroom opened and closed. There were only two people who would enter her room without announcing themselves, her husband and her father, and she had no desire to look at either of them.

“Hello, my wife,” said Lorgad’s voice, in a tone that sounded as if he was trying to come across as affectionate. She turned and looked at him with an expression that was somewhere between confusion and anger. He stopped, looking somewhat taken aback. “What?”

“Why are you here?” she asked bluntly.

“Well, I thought I would spend some time with my lovely bride on our wedding anniversary,” he said, with a sickly look on his face that she supposed was an attempt at a smile. She stared blankly at him, not sure what to think.

“You know, ever since I was little, people have assumed I was dumb,” she said. “I don’t know if its because they were afraid of my father, or what. But it’s not true. You’ve barely paid me any attention in two years, and now you want me to believe that you desire to celebrate our wedding anniversary? Please. Now tell me what you really want, or get out of here and leave me alone.” He stared at her, disgust, anger, and…something else, something she couldn’t identify, mixed in his expression.

“You are smarter than I gave you credit for,” he said with a resigned sigh. “All right. I’ll level with you. When I married you two years ago, it seemed like a prudent political move, to ally more closely with House Votalin at a time when your father was making a bid for the Throne, but I wasn’t sure if it would come to anything or not. Now, it seems all but assured that your father’s plans will come to fruition, and he will be the Emperor in truth, as well as in name. Because of this, Ilena and I have decided that the time has come for you and I to have a baby.” She stared blankly at him for a few moments, and then suddenly burst out laughing.

“Oh, that’s good, Lorgad,” she said, gasping and wiping tears from her eyes. “That’s real good. I so rarely hear jokes that I can’t help but laugh, even when they’re at my expense.” She sighed, a strange mixture of resentment and content, and then she burst out laughing again at the uncomprehending look on his face.

“I…don’t understand,” he said uncertainly. “What…what is so funny?” She continued to laugh, shaking her head and holding her hand up in front of her face.

“I told you Lorgad,” she said when she’d calmed down enough to speak, “I’m not stupid. I know you came here to poke fun at my condition. It’s okay, you can drop the pretense now.”

“I still don’t understand,” he said, a baffled frown crossing his face. “What ‘condition’ do you speak of?” She started laughing again, but almost immediately stopped, as it dawned on her that he really didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Oh,” she said, frowning. “I thought you knew.”

“Knew WHAT?” he exclaimed, exasperated.

“I’m barren,” she said calmly. “The abuse I suffered at my father’s hands as a child did irreparable damage to my reproductive organs. I can never have children.” The look of confusion on Lorgad’s face was slowly replaced by a look of horror.

“That…that monster!” he whispered.

“Yes,” Shala said quietly. “Yes he is.”

“Why would he do such a thing?” Lorgad said, appalled.

“Why do psychopaths do anything?” Shala said with a shrug.

“But…but…what of the succession?”

“Well, after I die, my aunt becomes the head of House Votalin. Or one of her four children does, if she dies before me.”

“And the Throne?” he asked. Shala snorted at this.

“I sincerely doubt my father ever considered the possibility that he would ascend to the Imperial Throne when I was a child. Even if he had, I doubt it would have changed anything.” Lorgad just shook his head, as if words had completely failed him. “Anyway,” she continued, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I just assumed everyone knew.”

“You don’t need to apologize,” he said, shaking his head again. “As much as Ilena and I would have loved for me to have a child on the Throne someday, it is not essential to our plans. And I have admit that Ilena will be pleased that there is no reason for you and I to…um…well, you know.” She sighed wistfully, her expression a mixture of regret and relief.

“Well, I’m glad we had this little chat, I guess,” she said with a half-hearted smile. “But if you don’t mind, I’d prefer to be alone.” He nodded, stood up, and bowed to her gracefully. She stared at him without expression, and as he walked away, she turned back to her small patch of sunlight.

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 6

“So, Admiral Lors,” the Emperor asked in a conversational tone, “this is your entire plan for defending Endragar?” The Emperor and his SCIAF were in a planning room deep within the Imperial Palace. A massive, holographic galactic star chart was displayed over the main table in the room, on which a dozen tablets were strewn, seemingly haphazardly. It was an excessively large room for just the two of them, as it was designed to be used by the Emperor’s entire military operations staff, but more and more, Extrator IV was coming to utilize the trappings of his office to overwhelm and overawe those who dealt with him.

“Yes it is, Your Majesty,” Lors replied in a voice that was more calm than he felt. “Is there something the matter with it?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact,” Extrator replied, his voice suddenly cold. “It’s too simple, for one. The rebels will be able to figure it out immediately.”

“Your Majesty, simple plans are generally best,” Lors said patiently, hoping he wasn’t coming across as patronizing. “The more complex the plan, the more likely it is that something will go wrong.” The plan called for a third of the fleet to orbit Endragar itself, and for the other two-thirds of the fleet to hide in the gravity well of a nearby gas planet. Votalin’s fleet would hopefully assume that the ships orbiting Endragar were the entirety of the defenses, engage them, and once they were fully committed, the rest of the fleet would move in and surround them.

“Nonsense,” Extrator scoffed. “If we bait them with a simple trap, they’ll take the bait, smash the trap, and leave us exposed. What we need to do is overwhelm them with a show of force. Bring all of our resources to bear, and surround the planet of Endragar with an impenetrable ring of steel. Move all available ships into orbit around Endragar, and when that fool Votalin shows up with his ragtag band of traitors, they’ll be so intimidated by our might, they’ll run like the dogs they are!” A fervent gleam appeared in the Emperor’s eyes as he spoke, and Lors unconsciously took a step back.

“Your Majesty, I’m not sure I understand,” Lors said warily. “You dismiss my plan because you believe it to be too simple, and yet you wish to replace it with an even simpler plan? Your Majesty, forgive me my contrary opinion, but I must respectfully submit that putting all of our forces into orbit around Endragar will only result in them being destroyed. The ‘ragtag band of traitors’, as you describe them, are quite well organized and equipped. I sincerely doubt that the largest show of force we can muster will impress them much.”

“I am the true Emperor!” Extrator roared suddenly. “Do you doubt my right to the Throne!?” The gleam in his eyes took on a distinctly hysterical light.

“Of course not, Your Majesty!” Lors said quickly, holding up his hands in front of his face as if to ward off a blow. “I was merely offering my best advice as the commander of your military forces! If you wish to go in a different direction, that is of course your right as sovereign lord and ruler of the Empire! But I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to speak my mind to you, my emperor.” Extrator glared at Lors with wild madness in his eyes for what seemed like several hours, but then suddenly he calmed down and turned away.

“I appreciate your advice, Admiral, but I been speaking with my other advisors, and it seems obvious that we need to go in a different direction here,” Extrator said pleasantly. “I will send you details of the battle plan tomorrow morning.” Lors stared at the Emperor, dumbfounded. Extrator’s mood swings were becoming more frightening and erratic, and now he was drawing up battle plans without even consulting his SCIAF? Things were definitely getting worse.

Extrator turned on his heel suddenly, and strode confidently out of the room, leaving Lors alone, and frightened. He needed to act, and soon. There was little doubt that the reign of Extrator IV was drawing to a close, and there was nothing Abaden Lors could do to stop it. So how best to proceed? He had no desire to die, and as much as he loved the Empire, he loved his life more. Besides, it wasn’t as if Extrator had any more right to the Throne than Erelesk Votalin or Valador Mifalis. Defecting to either of those men didn’t mean betraying the Empire. For all of Extrator’s protestations that he was the true Emperor, the only true Emperor was one elected by the Senate, and there was still no Senate, even after five years, to elect one.

Suddenly, Lors realized that he was seriously considering defecting to either Votalin or Mifalis. His cheeks reddened in shame, but even as they did so, he realized that there was truly no other option. Extrator was finished. His plan for the defense of Endragar was sure to be an even greater disaster than the battle at Midigal, and if Endragar fell, Trisitania would fall. And if Lors was still Extrator’s Supreme Commander when that happened, Votalin was sure to have his head.

The only question left was, who to back? Votalin certainly seemed to have the upper hand at the moment. He ruled more provinces than Mifalis and Extrator combined, and soon he would have control over Endragar and Trisitania, the political and economic capitals of the Empire. But he was also a sadistic psychopath.

Mifalis, on the other hand, was a patient and deliberate man. Lors knew him personally, but not particularly well. They were about the same age, and had been at the Academy together. Lors knew that, whatever faults and weaknesses Valador Mifalis possessed, reckless disregard of sound military strategy would not be one of them. That was good enough for Abaden Lors. He picked up his tablet and sent a message.

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 5

Admiral Abaden Lors was having a normal afternoon, which in recent weeks meant that he was gazing intently at a galactic star chart with his brow furrowed worriedly. Lately it seemed as if every day brought more bad news to the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Armed Forces. The latest news was that the province of Neauaria had defected to a rival “emperor”, Valador Mifalis. Neauaria was a heavily forested world that also had some of the best farmland in the galaxy, which meant that it had been a significant source of raw materials for the Empire. Admiral Lors wanted to prepare a detachment of warships to go to Neauaria and teach its people a lesson about loyalty, but the sad truth was that Lors simply didn’t have the forces to spare.

Every bit of evidence that Lors possessed pointed to a major assault coming from yet another rival for the Imperial Throne, Erelesk Votalin. Votalin was doing little to hide the fact that he was planning an attack on Endragar, and Lors had to make sure that every unit he could spare was defending that key province. Votalin was either being foolish, spreading misinformation, or was perfectly confident in his ability to crush any resistance Lors could offer. Unfortunately, everything Lors was learning from his agents pointed to the latter scenario.

So much had changed in the five years since the war began. As devastating as the initial attack on the Senate had been, Lors had been fairly confident that the war with Fangalin would be a relatively short affair, similar to the Nether War 300 years ago. Unfortunately, it was becoming more and more apparent that this conflict would not be resolved in his lifetime, or even his children’s lifetimes. The Empire had fractured so badly that it sometimes seemed as if no individual faction would ever come out on top. Between the three other “emperors”, Midigal, and Hadramoris, Lors sometimes had a hard time remembering that Fangalin even existed.

At the outset of the war, Lors had backed Embamor Etralis. It had seemed like a no-brainer at the time. Etralis held the capital, and was one of the highest-ranked military officers left alive. Sure, he had seized power illegally, but with a surprisingly formidable enemy sweeping over the galaxy, most people were willing to forgive his methods as long as he got results. The other two who had declared themselves Emperor, Votalin and Mifalis, had had much smaller followings, were largely unknown outside of their home sectors, and seemed destined to be swept away either by Etralis, or by Fangalin.

After the assassination of Etralis, Jimalin Redlamin had seemed the best candidate to support. Lors had known Redlamin personally, and Redlamin was a much more charismatic and decisive leader than Etralis. In addition, Votalin and Mifalis were still barely hanging on at the margins of Imperial space. As with Etralis, backing Redlamin had seemed like a no-brainer.

But Redlamin’s reign was turning out to be more disastrous than that of Etralis. Etralis had been a fool, but he had been a fool who possessed a rudimentary understanding of war. Redlamin did not, and his eagerness to quickly bring the whole of the Empire under his control had led to disaster at Midigal, a massacre that had cost Redlamin a third of his military strength and one of his best commanders. Ever since then, Redlamin had weakened while Votalin and Mifalis strengthened. And Redlamin descended deeper into insanity with each passing day.

Lors blamed the Master of the ISS, Jefmin Lakatai, for this development, but he didn’t dare do anything about it. Lakatai had been appointed Master by Etralis, and had ingratiated himself with Redlamin by supposedly unmasking a conspiracy by the commander of the Legion of the Heart to betray Redlamin and seize the Imperial Throne for herself. Lors was still skeptical that the conspiracy was anything more than a fabrication of Lakatai’s in order to eliminate the Legion, but he had no proof of this, and Redlamin refused to listen to speculation. At first, Redlamin had kept Lakatai at arms length, allowing him to retain control of the ISS because he had no proof of wrongdoing, but keeping him from enjoying any of the special privileges or access to the Throne that typically accompanied that office. Slowly though, over time, Lakatai had gained Redlamin’s trust, and was now effectively the power behind the Throne. And Lors strongly suspected that Lakatai did not have Redlamin’s, or the Empire’s, best interests at heart.

The Admiral heaved a heavy sigh and rubbed his temples wearily. Staring at this map did nothing to rearrange its borders in his favor. He had a plan for dealing with Votalin, but he doubted that Redlamin would approve it. Lately, everything he proposed was countered by Lakatai, and every time Lors and Lakatai disagreed, the Emperor inevitably sided with Lakatai. Many times, Lors had thought about submitting his resignation, but he still held out hope that Redlamin could be rehabilitated. That, and he was afraid that Redlamin’s response to his letter of resignation would be a signed order for his execution. The rule of law had always been a tenuous thing in the Trisitanian Empire, but this war had caused people to stop even pretending that there was a court system.

Admiral Lors continued to stare at the map, and the map continued to foretell the demise of the reign of Extrator IV. Lors hated to give any credit to his enemies, but he had to begrudgingly admit that what Fangalin had done so far was a masterstroke. By taking out the Senate while it was deliberating about a successor to the Throne, Fangalin had disrupted the Imperial system of rule so badly that it might never recover. By Imperial law, the Throne could only pass to a genetic descendant of the previous Emperor or Empress. If an occupant of the Throne died without any living genetic descendants, then the next Emperor or Empress would be chosen by simple majority of the Senate.

Those rules had been put in place almost 600 years ago, after ambiguous traditions surrounding the Senate’s role in choosing an Emperor had led to civil war. And for almost 600 years, the Melforia Dynasty had ruled the Empire in an unbroken line from parent to child, so those rules had never been tested. But for 600 years, everyone had been confident that if a Melforia ever did fail to have children, the Senate would be able to elect a successor without incident. No one had ever thought to have a contingency plan in case there was no Senate. And now the Empire was paying the price in blood for that oversight.

To be continued…

Catching the Sun, Part 4

Xendin Lodimeur sat in a small cafe near the heart of downtown Vortronis, sipping his coffee and waiting for the mystery woman who had called him to show up. Part of him desperately hoped she wouldn’t appear, and part of him desperately hoped she would. He wanted to return to his crumbling mansion and continue to drink himself to death, so that he wouldn’t have to face a reality where the person he most respected had murdered his daughter. But at the same time, he wondered if maybe life still held some purpose for him. Maybe this call would be the start of a new chapter for him.

A woman walked in the cafe, looked around for a moment, and then started walking toward his table. For a split second, he thought it was his daughter. She was the right height, and something about her face reminded him of Hana. But everything else was wrong. Hana had had brown hair, for example, and she’d always kept it cut short, whereas this woman had long, flowing, red hair. Her appearance was also immaculate and perfectly stylish, where Hana had never paid much attention to the way she looked. She was too deeply focused on what she thought were more important things.

“Greetings, Colonel,” she said as she slid onto the chair opposite him. “I’m Komeela Shalavin. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve heard a great deal about you.”

“Yes, yes,” he replied impatiently. “Spare me the small talk. I have things I’d much rather be doing than sitting here in this crappy cafe.”

“Oh yes,” Shalavin said with a knowing smile. “I know all about how you’ve been spending your time. Are you sure that’s the life you want to be living? Isn’t this better, being out among light and people and fresh air?”

“You don’t know anything, my dear,” Lodimeur said with a derisive snort. “I’m sure you’ve read my file and think you’ve learned everything you need to know about my ‘tragic history’.” He leaned forward intently and jabbed a pudgy finger right in her face. “Let me tell you something right now. You don’t know anything about me. You don’t know what I’ve been through, you don’t know what it’s done to me, and you don’t know what it’s like. You. Know. Nothing.”

“Of course, Colonel,” Shalavin said, her smile deepening. “Whatever you want. Now, let’s get down to business.” She laid a tablet on the table and slid it over to him. He scowled at her for a few moments, and then, without looking at the tablet, reached over and picked it up. He looked down at it and started reading, and as he did, his eyes widened.

“This…this is treason!” he exclaimed, fear and anger warring in his voice. “How dare you ask me to do such a thing!”

“Is it treason?” Shalavin asked, one eyebrow raised skeptically. “Tell me. What has the Empire done for you?”

“Everything!” Lodimeur exclaimed in a scandalized tone. “I owe all that I am to the Empire!”

“So, you owe the fact that you are a lonely, fat, depressed drunk to the Empire?” Shalavin said with a smirk. “Gee, you’re right. You do owe them your undying loyalty.”

“Enough!” he yelled, slamming his fist on the table. A shocked silence descended on the cafe as all the patrons turned to stare at him. His face reddened, and he went on in a much quieter voice. “Enough. I told you already, you don’t know anything.”

“No, you don’t know anything, Colonel Lodimeur,” Shalavin said firmly. “You still love and respect Jimalin Redlamin, even though he killed your daughter. And now that he’s the Emperor, you think that you need to transfer the love and loyalty that you hold for him to the Empire that he ostensibly rules. Am I right?” He scowled at her silently, and she smiled slightly. “I’ll take that for agreement. Tell me, Colonel. How many times have you spoken to the Emperor since the death of your daughter?” Lodimeur continued to scowl for a few seconds, and then he blinked and looked confused.

“Well…I…I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I…I guess I haven’t spoken to him at all.”

“I see,” Shalavin said flatly. “No apology. No explanation. Not even a simple chat to see how you’re doing.”

“I…well…you see, the Emperor’s a very busy man, and, um…” He trailed off, and slowly something began to dawn on him. There was a reason he’d stopped taking calls, and it wasn’t just that he hadn’t felt like talking to anyone. In the first days and weeks since he’d learned of Hana’s death, he’d jumped up and grabbed his tablet at the slightest noise, hoping and praying that Redlamin was contacting him. He didn’t know what he expected Redlamin to say. Anything would have been fine, really.

He had convinced himself that Redlamin didn’t mean to kill Hana, that it was all a terrible accident, and that Redlamin felt remorse over what he’d done. But now he realized that was a lie. Redlamin didn’t care about Hana, and he didn’t care about Xendin. The fact that he hadn’t made the slightest effort to contact Xendin, even though he must have learned that Hana was in that crowd, was proof that, in the end, Xendin Lodimeur meant nothing to him. Deep down inside, Xendin had known this all along. He just hadn’t been willing to confront it until now.

“You evil woman,” he said in a low, savage voice, glaring at Shalavin with tears in his eyes. But Shalavin just shook her head calmly.

“I am not the evil one here, Colonel,” she said. “The Empire…they are the ones who are evil. You say that the Empire gave you everything? I disagree. I say that the Empire took everything away from you. And what loyalty do you owe to those who would destroy what you love most?” A single tear fell from Lodimeur’s eye and splashed on the table in front of him. Then he looked up and spoke softly.

“Very well,” he said. “I accept your proposal.”

To be continued…