A Shard of Darkness, Part 9

When the ISS raid on Hemetal Manor had come, Shala Votalin’s reaction had been a strange mix of resignation, terror, and fury. Resignation, because she’d known all along that her father wouldn’t be able to just let her go. Terror, because the last thing in the world she wanted was to go back to her father. Fury, because, for the first time in her life, she truly wanted to destroy her father for subjecting herself and those she cared about to his perverse and selfish whims. In the end, resignation won out. There simply was no other logical emotional response to the sight of a hundred heavily armed soldiers arriving to take you somewhere, even if you desperately didn’t want to go.

She reflected on this as she sat in the library of the Imperial Palace, reflected instead of focusing on the book she was trying to read. In no way did she want to think about the situation she was in, but it was difficult to think about anything else. Despite herself, while she’d been in Hemetal Manor, she’d let herself believe that maybe she was finally free from her father forever. To discover that she was wrong, even though she’d expected to be wrong, was heartbreaking.

Nevertheless, she was trying to make the best of her situation. Her father had forbidden her to leave the Palace, but she had free rein of the entire Palace itself, which was easily the most luxurious place she could have ever imagined. There was certainly plenty here to keep her mind and body occupied, but she wasn’t interested in just entertaining or distracting herself. Instead, she wanted to learn as much as she could, in whatever subject she could imagine, in the hopes of finding something, anything, that would finally allow her to break free from her father, or better yet, to exact revenge for all of the suffering he’d inflicted on her.

It wasn’t just vengeance for herself that she craved, though. Ilena Hemetal and her daughters had been captured by the ISS as well, and if the ISS agents’ treatment of herself had been sternly solicitous, the same could not be said of their treatment of the Hemetals. All three daughters had been raped multiple times, and Ilena had been beaten within an inch of her life. Shala still had a hard time believing that her own life was anything worth preserving, but to witness such horrible treatment of women that she had grown to admire, respect, and maybe even love, filled her with righteous fury such as she had never imagined before.

A commotion at the entrance of the library caused her to look up from her book, and she hastily wiped a scowl off her face that she hadn’t even known was there as her father swept pompously into the library. Even as she gazed placidly at his approach, her heart was almost overwhelmed with feelings of fury and revulsion at the sight of him. Such an arrogant man, so convinced that he could take whatever he desired without any care for the consequences. As she watched him, she vowed in her heart, once again, that if it was the only thing she accomplished in her life, she would bring her father down.

“Well, Shala,” the Emperor said, settling his voluminous robes around him as he eased himself into the chair opposite Shala, “isn’t this a life more befitting a Princess? Isn’t the Imperial Palace a much preferable abode to the Hemetal Manor? You must admit that I did you a great favor by taking you out of that moldy old mansion and bringing you here, to the heart of the universe.”

“Of course, Father,” Shala said, making her voice meek and her eyes downcast, judiciously ignoring the fact that Hemetal Manor was a much newer and more modern building than the Imperial Palace, if not quite so luxurious.

“I’m not sure what you were thinking, staying on Infanalis while your husband came to pay his respects to me,” Neminatrix said with a languid sigh, idly picking up the books she’d carefully arranged on the table, briefly inspecting them, and tossing them carelessly aside. “You would have saved me and the Hemetals a great deal of trouble if you’d just come when I called.” He glanced at her, and then went on talking and inspecting books without giving her a chance to respond. “Lorgad must have held you on Infanalis against your will. That’s the only explanation that makes sense. Surely you wouldn’t have even conceived of defying your beloved father’s will, would you?”

“Of course not, Father,” Shala murmured, keeping her eyes downcast so Neminatrix wouldn’t see the hatred burning there. Neminatrix grunted noncommittally, and then he suddenly stood up and loomed over her.

“Last night you were late when I summoned you to my quarters,” he said, all trace of languor gone from his voice and posture, replaced with steely menace. “I expect you to arrive five minutes early tonight, or you will experience the full measure of my…displeasure.” He swept imperiously away, and as soon as he was gone, Shala shuddered, a gesture that encompassed the full range of the terror and disgust she felt for her father.

Surely there was a way to destroy her father, to bring him down so thoroughly that even his memory would be disgraced. Just killing him wouldn’t do it, and to be honest, she wouldn’t have known how to do it anyway. Ever since she was a little girl, her father’s guards had stripped her naked and searched her before presenting her to him, so she wouldn’t be able to get a weapon into his quarters anyway. For all his talk about how she was his precious flower or whatever, it seemed that Neminatrix IV didn’t even trust his only daughter.

But even if she could kill him in his quarters, she didn’t want to. First of all, his guards would almost certainly execute her on the spot if she did, and she wanted to make sure she outlived him by more than a few minutes. Secondly, she wanted to end more than his life, she wanted to destroy his reign, to smash down everything he’d spent his life working for, and she wanted him to know that she had done it. Whatever it took, however long she spent, she would do it, or she would die trying.

To be continued…


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