A Shard of Darkness, Part 10

“All units are ready to go, Colonel,” said Captain Lateiel Vondric. He and newly promoted Lt. Colonel Belfamor Hemetal were standing in a conference room on the fourth floor of Emperor Valador’s primary military base, which was located on the planet Hibellia. Belfamor had been gazing out the window and looking over reports, anxiously awaiting the word from Capt. Vondric that they could depart for Trisitania, but now that Vondric had come, he found himself strangely hesitant. This wasn’t a normal military mission. If he screwed up now, it wouldn’t just be himself and his troops that would suffer, it would be his mother and his sisters. Clearly Neminatrix was keeping them alive for leverage, to make sure that Belfamor didn’t take House Hemetal’s wealth away. Once Neminatrix realized that his leverage was gone, the lives of the Hemetal women would become expendable.

“Thank you, Captain,” Belfamor said with a nod. “Tell everyone to load up. I will join you shortly.”

“Yes, sir,” Vondric said with a salute, and turning on his heel, he walked through the door and disappeared down the hall. Belfamor rubbed his temples with a sigh, and then picked up his gear and followed. This was it. Time to figure out if he really had what it took to be a military commander, and the head of his House. It was his duty to make sure and keep every member of House Hemetal safe. If he couldn’t do that, he didn’t deserve to lead.

***

The voyage to Trisitania was long, but uneventful. The ship that Belfamor and his troops were riding in was a civilian ship, in order to hide their military nature. They would land in Selorin, near the Imperial Palace, and use faked credentials to gain access to the Palace. Once inside, they would be able to access the Palace’s computer system to figure out where Ilena and the others were, and plot out the path to their location that was the least guarded. After that, they’d just have to make their way to the Hemetal women, release them from wherever they were, and get back out of the Palace with them.

Belfamor also had another goal, one that he had not shared with his troops yet, as he was not yet sure how feasible it was. There was another prisoner in the Imperial Palace who Belfamor had an obligation to: Shala Votalin. He didn’t want to say anything until he was sure it could be done, but he was determined to rescue Shala from her father.

“We just received clearance to land, Colonel,” said Captain Vondric.

“Excellent, Captain,” Belfamor replied. “Everyone knows the plan?” All of the soldiers on the transport nodded. “Good. We’ll rendezvous in the south hallway of the Palace once my mother and sisters are located. Make sure your beacons are transmitting, so we can all keep track of each other.” He paused for a moment, and then cleared his throat.

“I want to tell you all how grateful I am that you’re here. I know that you were all ordered to participate in this mission, and good soldiers always obey orders, but…well, great soldiers disobey stupid orders. I’ve seen all of your records, and I know that you are all great soldiers, so it means a lot to me to know that none of you thought your orders were stupid. It may seem selfish of me to use Imperial soldiers for my own personal business, and maybe it is selfish, but by coming on this mission, you have earned yourself the eternal gratitude of House Hemetal, which is no small thing. I promise that House Hemetal will take care of you and your families as long as I live.” He paused again, and closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I need to stop now, or else I’m going to start crying, and how undignified would it be for a CO to start weeping right before a mission?” That got a few chuckles. “Thank you, all of you. Now let’s go kick some ass!” A rousing chorus of cheers went up in response to Belfamor’s speech, and he sat down in his seat with a grateful smile.

***

Entering the Palace and accessing the Palace’s internal computer systems proved to be child’s play. About five years ago, the Palace’s chief systems administrator had locked down the Palace’s systems so securely that only he could access them, and soon after he had died of a heart attack, taking his login credentials with him. He had apparently been some sort of supernatural genius, because it proved to be impossible to bypass his encryption, and eventually the entire computer system had been dismantled and replaced with an older, simpler system that couldn’t be locked down by one person. One disadvantage of this system (or advantage, from Belfamor’s perspective) was that it was orders of magnitude less secure than the previous system, which made it almost absurdly easy for Belfamor’s systems officer to gain access and link the whole unit’s tablets to it.

As soon as he accessed the system, it took just a few minutes for Belfamor to locate his mother and his three sisters. All four of them were being held together in the western barracks of the ISS unit that guarded the Palace. Unfortunately, they were heavily defended. It looked like there were at least fifty soldiers in the barracks, so some sort of diversion would be necessary to thin their ranks, as Belfamor only had twenty soldiers available to him.

On the other hand, there were no soldiers anywhere near Shala’s quarters. That presented some possibilities. Maybe if the Emperor’s daughter disappeared, that would provide the distraction he needed to get his mother and sisters out. It was certainly an idea. In any case, he needed to rendezvous with his troops, and figure out what their next move was. As he walked down the mostly empty hallways of the Palace, he couldn’t help but grin fiercely at what was about to happen.

To be continued…

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