A Shard of Darkness, Part 11

“What’s the plan now, Colonel?” said Captain Vondric as Belfamor approached his troops in the south hallway of the Imperial Palace. The south hallway had been chosen as the meeting point, because the entire south wing of the Palace had been abandoned since the reign of Extrator IV. Before that, it had been the headquarters of the Legion of the Heart, a special unit of the Imperial Armed Forces that had been tasked with guarding the Palace, but Extrator had been convinced that the Legion was plotting against him, and had the Legion wiped out and formally disbanded. In the past five years, no one had yet found a use for their former headquarters, which made it the perfect place for Belfamor’s troops to meet and plan their next move.

“We need to do something to empty out the ISS barracks,” Belfamor said. “Some sort of distraction. I have an idea, but I’m open to any suggestions you might have. That said, here’s my plan. I also would like to rescue Neminatrix’s daughter, Shala Votalin, as long as we’re here. She was my father’s wife, and I promised her that I would protect her from her father. I would like to keep my promise, and I think doing so will help our main mission. If the Emperor’s daughter disappears, that might cause a little bit of troop movement within the Palace, don’t you think?” There were some nods and murmurs of assent. “Any objections?” A few soldiers shook their heads, but they were otherwise silent and still.

“Very good,” Belfamor said, satisfied. “Trevaia, Locumin, you’re with me.” The two soldiers he named nodded and moved closer to him. “Vondric, you’re in command. Keep an eye on the screens. Once the ISS barracks starts to empty out, move in and secure the targets. Stay here until then. If anyone enters the south wing, you’ll need to disperse. It will look extremely suspicious if anyone notices 17 soldiers just hanging out in an empty hallway. I will meet up with you at the rendezvous point.” Vondric nodded, and Belfamor and the other two soldiers moved out.

Walais Trevaia and Berine Locumin were both sergeants, both women, and both had impressive backgrounds. They had both seen extensive combat, and had the scars and decorations to prove it. They also despised Neminatrix, which was one of the main reasons Belfamor had chosen them to accompany him to Shala’s quarters. He quickly briefed them on Shala’s situation as they left the south wing, and they were both shaking their heads and scowling darkly as they entered the east wing of the Palace.

“The day that we pull that pig off the Imperial Throne can’t come soon enough,” Trevaia spat, causing Belfamor to look back wryly at her.

“Careful, Sergeant,” he said quietly. “Remember where we are.” She looked slightly abashed, but the scowl didn’t leave her face. Belfamor supposed that was for the best. One sight of a scarred, scowling veteran soldier would likely be enough to keep any curious types away from them.

The trip up to Shala’s quarters was short but tense. The closer they got, the more heavily populated the hallways were. Belfamor began to worry about something he hadn’t thought of before, namely that they would run into someone who would recognize him. He had never been to Trisitania before, but he had been a major in Neminatrix’s army and the heir to the richest noble house in the Empire. He started thinking that perhaps it had been foolish arrogance to come here himself, and his mood of excited, angry confidence had almost completely dissipated.

And yet, despite Belfamor’s unease, they reached Shala’s quarters without any incident. Taking a deep breath and double-checking his tablet to make sure she was alone in her quarters, he tapped the panel next to her door. A few seconds later, the door slid open, and Shala’s eyes opened as wide as they could go.

“B-Belfamor!?” she exclaimed, utterly shocked.

“Shhh,” Belfamor said quietly. “May we come in?”

“O-of course!” Shala said, her eyes still looking like dinner plates. “What are you doing here?”

“Your father has my mother and sisters,” Belfamor said, his voice as hard as nails. “I’ve declared my loyalty to Valador Mifalis, and he’s put me in command of a team to get them out of here. I’ve also decided that I’m getting you out of here too.”

“Me!?” Shala blurted. Belfamor wouldn’t have thought her eyes could get any bigger, but he was wrong. “But…why?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Belfamor asked, a slight smile crossing his face. “I promised that I would do whatever I could to keep you away from your father, and I always keep my promises. It’s the Hemetal way.”

“Oh, Belfamor,” she said, her voice choking up and her eyes filling with tears, “that’s…I…” Unable to form any coherent thoughts, she rushed over and hugged him as tight as she could. In response, he awkwardly patted her on the back with both hands and smiled sheepishly at Trevaia and Locumin, who both raised a quizzical eyebrow at him.

“Okay, Shala, I’m glad that you’re so happy about this, but we really do need to get going, or this reunion is going to be nothing but happy thoughts,” Belfamor said, gently pushing Shala away from him. “Here’s the plan. We’re going to head in the direction of the east barracks, but before we get there, I’m going to put a positional masker on you, so it will look like you disappeared on the internal tracking system. That should throw your father into a panic, and cause him to send a bunch of ISS troops to look for you. With a little bit of luck, that’ll thin the ranks where my mother and sisters are being held, allowing us to get in there, get them out, and then get out of the Palace and off of Trisitania.”

“That…seems like a good plan,” Shala said softly. “There’s just one problem, though. I can’t go with you.”

To be continued…

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