“I suppose you’d like to know more about what your role will be as a servant of the Dark Presence,” said Zhemeen Fortulis, handing Xendin Lodimeur a glass of scotch and pouring one for himself. They were sitting in Fortulis’s private study, a much smaller and more cozy room than the Supreme Commander’s office.
“Yes, I had wondered about that, my lord,” Lodimeur replied. He took the glass of scotch, but he didn’t drink. It had been two weeks since he last consumed any alcohol, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to go back to it now.
“Please, my friend, you needn’t be so formal,” Fortulis said, settling into an expensive but well-worn chair across from Lodimeur. “Call me Zhemeen.”
“May I speak freely?” Lodimeur said, frowning. Fortulis nodded. “It is my understanding that the Supreme Commander of Fangalin possesses absolute authority over every member of Fangalin. Is that correct?” Fortulis nodded again.
“Yes, according to the Fangalin Charter written by the first Supreme Commander, Wellin Votara,” Fortulis said. “That document is the lifeblood of our organization, and every child born in Fangalin territory, and every new member who joins as an adult, is required to memorize it and live by it in every facet of their lives.”
“I confess I have not had a chance to memorize it yet, my lord,” Lodimeur said, swirling his glass of scotch and gazing at it intently. “But I have read it, and that was one thing that stuck out to me. If the Supreme Commander exercises absolute authority over every aspect of the organization of Fangalin, such a person should be treated with the utmost authority and respect.” He raised his head and looked Fortulis directly in the eye. “Is that not so, my lord?” Fortulis met Lodimeur’s gaze, and stared at him without expression. Then a pleased smile crept across his face.
“I knew I was going to like you, Colonel,” he said, chuckling. “Very well, we’ll do things your way. Of course, if I wanted to abuse my authority, I could very easily have you imprisoned or even executed for defying my wishes.”
“That is, of course, your prerogative,” Lodimeur said, inclining his head slightly. “However, I must do what I believe is right, even if it costs me my life.” This time, Fortulis burst out laughing.
“Well said, Colonel!” he said. “I appreciate a man of integrity! Rest assured, I do whatever I can to prevent myself from abusing my authority. Absolute power is, frankly, a terrifying thing, and I have always attempted to maintain a healthy respect of it.”
“Very admirable, my lord,” Lodimeur said diplomatically. Fortulis chuckled at this.
“In any case, let’s get back to business,” he said, taking a sip of scotch. “My plan for you is to take advantage of the impending battle for Endragar between Jimalin Redlamin and Erelesk Votalin. This is a battle that Redlamin is almost certain to lose, but we want to make sure he loses it, and we don’t want to leave anything to chance. That’s part of your goal. However, we also don’t want Votalin to come out of this battle in a dominant position. Therefore, your overall goal in this mission is to destroy Redlamin’s forces completely and then cripple Votalin’s.”
“I see,” Lodimeur said, frowning. “And how am I to accomplish that, my lord?”
“Simple,” Fortulis said with a grin. “We’ll put you in command of a sizable fleet – 2 battleships, 4 cruisers, and 6 destroyers – that just defected to us from the Empire. You’ll go to Infanalis, and pledge your loyalty to Votalin. Then you’ll go to Endragar, help him defeat Redlamin, and when the battle’s over, you’ll turn your guns on him. Do as much damage as you can, and then get out of there before he can retaliate.”
“I…see,” Lodimeur said, his frown deepening. He was silent for a few moments, pondering this plan. “I bear no affection for Erelesk Votalin, but it disturbs me to think of pledging my loyalty to a man, and then turning on him suddenly and violently. Would it not be acceptable to hold my force in reserve nearby, and then drop in on him once the battle is over?”
“That is a possibility,” Fortulis said, stroking his beard. “I can bring that up with my advisors. But I think your moral concerns are unfounded. As a member of Fangalin, your loyalty is first to the Dark Presence, and then to me. And if I order you to feign loyalty to a so-called Emperor, then that is my responsibility, not yours.”
“I understand, my lord,” Lodimeur said with a slight bow.
“Very well, then,” Fortulis said, smiling broadly. He stood up, and lifted his glass up above his head. “I propose a toast!” Lodimeur stood up as well. “To our new partnership! May it be a fruitful one, and may we win victory after victory, and inflict defeat and destruction upon the Empire!” Lodimeur dutifully held his glass out, and let Fortulis clink his glass against it. Fortulis downed the rest of his drink, and Lodimeur took a small sip of his.
He wore a faint smile on his face, but inside, he was in turmoil. He had joined Fangalin, but he still wasn’t sure if it was the right decision. He had spent his entire life serving the Empire, and he still wasn’t convinced that Fangalin deserved his loyalty more than the Empire did. Nor could he quite get over his personal loyalty to Jimalin Redlamin. Despite what Komeela Shalavin had said, Redlamin had been good to him over the years. Lodimeur was still not entirely convinced that Redlamin didn’t care about his daughter. Maybe he really had been so busy running the Empire that he hadn’t had time to contact Lodimeur. It was possible. Besides, even if Redlamin really didn’t care about Hana, was that bad enough to face him in battle? To kill him? He wasn’t sure. He didn’t want to betray his new leaders, nor did he want to betray his old ones. But he couldn’t serve both of them.
To be continued…