“Wait, what?” Belfamor blurted, the smile on his face freezing in shock. “What do you mean?”
“I’m staying here,” Shala said firmly. “Don’t get me wrong. I want to leave more than anything. And the fact that you broke in here with a group of soldiers to rescue me is…I can’t even imagine how to describe how much that means to me. But I’ve had a lot of time to think in the past few weeks. And I realized that I have a duty to more than just myself. I am the heir to House Votalin, and a Princess of the Empire. Regardless of how I came to possess those titles, I have them, and there are obligations that go along with them.”
“I…I’m not sure I understand,” Belfamor stammered. She closed her eyes and sighed deeply, a pained expression on her face, but when she opened her eyes again, it was replaced with the most determined look Belfamor had ever seen.
“If I’m going to carry out my duty to my House and to the Empire, then my I need to do whatever I can to end my father’s reign, no matter the cost to myself,” Shala said, a fierce glint flashing in her eyes. “If I go with you, I’ll be safe, but I’ll be resigned to sitting around on my butt, waiting for other people to fight my battles for me. If I stay here, I’ll be able to undermine my father’s rule from the inside.”
“Shala, that’s insane,” Belfamor said desperately. “How much more damage would it do to your father if you publicly declared your loyalty to Valador Mifalis? Just think of it! Who would support Neminatrix if his own daughter turned against him?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Are you sure that this isn’t about you wanting the Throne for yourself?”
Shala’s eyes widened in shock, and she looked as if he’d slapped her. “Belfamor Hemetal! How could you even think such a thing!” she exclaimed. “Do you really think power means anything to me? How could you imagine that I would subject myself to my father’s attention just for the opportunity to usurp his place?”
“So you’re going to subject yourself to his attention just to get revenge?” Belfamor said skeptically.
“I… Well, when you put it that way, it does seem rather foolish,” Shala said, blushing. Then she sighed again, and looked up at Belfamor, who was surprised to see tears in her eyes. “Okay, there’s another reason I want to stay. I…I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if I leave, my father will just capture me again. At least…if I stay here, I know what to expect. I…I really thought that I was safe on Infanalis. But I wasn’t, and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel safe again as long as my father is alive.”
“Oh, Shala,” Belfamor said. He started to tear up himself, and wrapped his arms around her tightly. “This time will be different. We’re going to be under the protection of an Emperor this time, a man who actually deserves the title. You’ll be heavily guarded, far from anywhere that your father could reach you. And even if he does capture you again, I’ll just come rescue you again. I will not abandon you. Ever.”
For a long time, she just held tightly to Belfamor, reveling in the feel of actually being in the arms of someone who loved her, wondering if that feeling was real or just a dream. What if Belfamor was just using her to get his mother and sisters out? But then she realized that he didn’t have to rescue her to use her in his plan. Just putting a positional masker on her would cause enough chaos and provide enough of a distraction for him to get into the ISS barracks. If he just wanted to use her, he wouldn’t be trying to persuade her to come with him. That sealed the deal for her.
“Okay,” she said huskily, then she cleared her throat and spoke again, her voice stronger, “Okay, Belfamor. You convinced me. Let’s go.”
Belfamor grinned widely down at her, and then motioned sharply to Trevaia and Locumin. Locumin approached the door while Trevaia glanced down at her tablet, and then looked up at Belfamor and said, “We’re all clear.”
“Good,” Belfamor said with a nod, then he tapped a button on his wrist. “Okay, I just activated the positional masker. Let’s get out of here.” Locumin opened the door, and she and Trevaia took point. Belfamor motioned to Shala to walk behind them, while he followed behind her. Using their tablets, Locumin and Trevaia guided the group on a path back to the south wing that was deserted, while Belfamor watched his tablet to see if the ISS barracks had emptied out yet.
By the time they reached the south hallway, only a few people aside from Ilena and her daughters were still in the ISS barracks. It would have been better if every ISS soldier had left, but Belfamor supposed that Neminatrix wasn’t a complete idiot. A steady stream of soldiers was headed towards Shala’s quarters, and then dispersing from there in every direction, but very few of them were approaching the ISS barracks, and none of them were moving toward the south wing. That was good. No one suspected what was really going on yet.
Taking a deep breath, Belfamor leaned up against the wall and slowly slid to the floor. This wasn’t over yet, of course, but everything was going better than he expected. In a few minutes, they would be out of the Palace, and back on their transport, on their way to Revellia. It was almost hard to imagine the feeling of impending doom that had blanketed Belfamor on his way up to Shala’s quarters.
“Colonel! Look at your tablet!” Locumin barked suddenly, her alarmed tone verging on terror. Belfamor’s eyes snapped open, and he whipped his tablet out. Immediately, he picked out what was wrong. Their positional maskers had failed. All of them, including Shala, were now perfectly visible to the Palace’s internal sensors.
To be continued…