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…

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