A Shard of Darkness, Part 6

Belfamor stood on the landing pad outside his family’s manor, watching his father’s shuttle rise up into the sky and soar out of sight. It was sunny, for once, giving Belfamor a fantastic view of the shuttle as it disappeared into the stratosphere. As he stood there, he couldn’t help but wonder if he would ever see his father again. For against all of his own expectations and his better judgment, Shala Votalin was not onboard that shuttle. He still couldn’t quite believe he’d made that decision, but in the end, he found that he could not look her in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry, but you have to go back to being raped by your father.”

He continued to stand on the landing pad for a long time after the shuttle was out of sight, and then finally he sighed and started trudging back up the path to the manor. As he walked, his head was down and he was staring at his feet, so when he reached the door and lifted up his head, he was somewhat startled to see Shala standing right in front of him, and he stumbled backwards to keep from running into her.

“I was wondering if you would notice me,” she said with a slightly mocking smile.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting anyone to be there,” he said, half apologetic and half annoyed.

“Clearly,” she said, her smile changing into a smirk. She clasped her hands behind her back and continued to smirk at him, as if waiting for him to do something. He frowned irritably back at her.

“What!” he finally blurted out, exasperated. She shrunk back from him slightly, and her smirk disappeared and was replaced by an uncertain look.

“I…I don’t know,” she said hesitantly. “To be honest, I never expected you to take my side. I…find myself unsure of how to react to you now.” Belfamor stared at her blankly for a moment, and then he suddenly scowled and pushed past her into the manor.

The honest truth was that he didn’t know how to react to himself now. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d made a horrible decision, and the result would be disaster for his House. But he thought again about telling Shala to go to Trisitania, and he realized all over again that he couldn’t have made any other decision.

“Belfamor! Wait!” called Shala’s voice behind him. He stopped, sighed, and turned around slowly. “I just wanted to say thank you,” she continued. “I really appreciate you letting me stay here. I know that it was difficult for you to make this decision, and I hope that maybe one day, I can repay you for your kindness.”

“Honestly, Shala,” Belfamor said, running one hand through his hair bashfully, “it wasn’t that hard a decision to make, in the end. I just couldn’t bear the thought of being the one to tell you to go to Trisitania.”

“So I guess you’re just as much a coward as I am,” Shala replied cheerfully, and then cringed when he scowled at her. “I’m sorry. That was cruel.”

“No, you’re right,” Belfamor said, his expression softening. “I am a coward. I should put the interests of my House ahead of my own feelings, but when it came down to it, I just couldn’t.”

“Well, to be honest, I’m really rather glad you couldn’t,” Shala said brightly.

“You don’t really think that staying here will keep you safe from your father forever, do you?” Belfamor asked darkly.

“Of course not,” Shala replied. “But just knowing that people care enough about me to sacrifice things that are dear to them in an attempt to keep me safe is…pretty spectacular.”

“I guess you wouldn’t really know what that’s like, huh?” Belfamor said with a heavy sigh. “I can’t even imagine how hard your life has been.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know,” Shala said wistfully. “It’s the only life I’ve ever lived.” Belfamor regarded her sadly for a moment, and then, before he entirely knew what was happening, he was wrapping his arms around her and holding her tight. At first she seemed shocked, and held her arms tightly against her sides, and then slowly, uncertainly, she lifted her arms and returned his embrace.

“Belfamor,” she said hesitantly, “Th-thank you.” They held each other close for a long time, and then they somewhat awkwardly let go of each other and stepped back.

“I don’t know what else I can do to help you, Shala,” he said, not quite looking her in the eye, “but I promise to do whatever I can. By the honor of House Hemetal, I swear to you that I will do whatever is in my power to keep you away from your father.”

“Thank you,” said Shala in a shy, quiet voice, then she smiled. “You’ve turned out to be my knight in shining armor after all, haven’t you?”

“I don’t know that I’d go quite that far, but…I suppose if you want to think of me that way, I’m okay with it,” replied Belfamor with a faint smile. Shala’s smile grew wider, she leaned over and kissed him lightly on his cheek, and then she walked past him and down the hall with a spring in her step that Belfamor had never seen before.

He still wasn’t sure if he’d made the best decision or not, but he didn’t really care anymore. Shala’s reaction had shown him that his father had been correct, that defending the innocent was more important and more rewarding than protecting the honor and power of his House. Of course, he had yet to pay the price for his decision. It would be a few days before his father arrived on Trisitania, and there was no telling how long it would take before Neminatrix acted. Perhaps the Emperor’s reaction would be milder than Belfamor had anticipated. Or perhaps not. Either way, Belfamor had done what he believed to be the right thing, and that was all that mattered.

To be continued…

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