“Blank the sensors, NOW!” Belfamor barked over his communicator as soon as he saw what was on his tablet. A few seconds later, the screen went completely blank. Now he and his troops were blind, but so were the ISS forces looking for them. “Captain Vondric, abort mission!” he ordered. “I repeat, abort mission!”
“Sir?” came Vondric’s voice over the communicator. “We haven’t extracted your mother or sisters yet!”
“I understand that, Vondric,” Belfamor replied, his voice strained, “but the longer we stay here, the less chance we have of escaping with our lives. I will not throw your lives away for the sake of my family!”
“Understood, sir,” Vondric replied.
“Meet at rendezvous point Zaric,” Belfamor ordered. Then he severed the connection, turned to Locumin and Trevaia, nodded, and they nodded back. “Come on, Shala. It’s time to go.” Shala looked completely terrified, but she nodded and took up her place between Belfamor and the two female soldiers.
They had to move quickly, but carefully. Now that Neminatrix knew that Shala was in the south wing, he would be sending the bulk of his troops there to find her, so they needed to leave the south wing as soon as possible, but they also needed to be careful that they didn’t just stumble into a mass of ISS troops heading for their last known position. Belfamor wondered if it had been a mistake to rely too heavily on the Palace’s internal sensors, but it was too late to do anything about it now.
Escaping from the south wing of the Palace meant entering the west wing, as there was no access to the outside from the south wing. There were exits from both the east wing and the west wing, but the last view Belfamor had had of the internal sensors told him that most of the ISS troops in the Palace had been in the east wing. Some of them were almost certainly heading for the west wing now, but Belfamor was closer to it than they were.
Creeping softly but swiftly through the west wing, Belfamor and his companions reached the west entrance of the Palace without any incident, but of course the entrance itself was heavily guarded.
“Cover your face with this,” Belfamor whispered to Shala, handing her a spare gas mask. She nodded and quickly put it on, and Belfamor, Locumin and Trevaia did the same. Once that was done, Belfamor nodded to Locumin and Trevaia, who both pulled grenades out and threw them in the direction of the guard post. There was a blinding flash, a loud bang, and then the corridor began filling with a thin white mist. The guards stationed at the entrance started coughing and choking, and one by one, they began to collapse.
“Go!” Belfamor whispered fiercely to Shala. “As fast as you can!” All Belfamor could see of her face was her eyes, and those looked utterly terrified, but she nodded and ran faster than Belfamor would have believed. The two soldiers flanked her as she ran, pistols out and ready to shoot any ISS soldier who didn’t succumb to the gas grenade, and Belfamor followed closely behind. Fortunately, none of the ISS soldiers guarding the door were prepared to counter a gas grenade, so all of them were either completely unconscious or writhing around on the floor, desperately trying to breathe.
Belfamor and the three women continued sprinting through the courtyard that surrounded the Palace, taking off their gas masks as they ran, and emerged in Citizens Plaza, a large open space that surrounded the Palace complex. The crowds in the Plaza were thick, and the three soldiers immediately holstered their pistols so they wouldn’t look suspicious. They stopped sprinting as soon they reached the plaza, but they continued to move quickly, pushing people aside as they moved to the busy streets surrounding the Palace.
As soon as they reached the streets, their pace slackened slightly, so that they looked more like busy commuters than they did fugitives from the ISS. If Belfamor and the two other soldiers were vigilantly watching all directions at once as they trotted along, well, these were dark days. Everyone was more suspicious than they’d been a few years ago.
It took them about twenty minutes to reach the rendezvous point. It was a nondescript, twenty story building, overshadowed by the massive skyscrapers surrounding it on every side. The building was ostensibly an apartment building, but it was owned by one of Emperor Valador’s sympathizers, and used to smuggle Valador’s agents in and out of the capital. Deep underneath the building was a secret tunnel that led to a small starport, also owned by the same woman who owned the apartment building. Belfamor and his soldiers would use a ship from that starport to escape the planet and return to Hibellia.
The safehouse owner, Viraiel Benthane, was in her 50s, with graying hair and a warm smile, but there was something about her body language that made it clear to Belfamor that she didn’t put up with any crap. She greeted Belfamor and the others as they entered, and Belfamor quickly got her up to speed on the situation with their mission. Before she could reply, the door burst open and Captain Vondric rushed in, followed by 14 soldiers.
“Colonel Hemetal!” he exclaimed, relieved. “Thank the One you made it! Did you have any trouble?”
“None to speak of,” Belfamor said with a frown. “I take it you did?”
“Tredix and Lavael didn’t make it, sir,” Vondric replied with a scowl.
“Damn it,” Belfamor snarled. “Anything else? Any signs of pursuit?”
“Negative, sir,” Vondric said, shaking his head. “We lost them in Citizen’s Plaza.”
“Good,” Belfamor said with a sharp nod. “Well, we’re going to have to lay low here for a few days. Neminatrix will have the skies around Trisitania crawling with patrols. I wouldn’t even be surprised if civilian ships are grounded for a few days, although the ISS won’t be able to enforce that ban for long. We just need to sit tight, and wait them out.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Vondric and the other soldiers, and they started to disperse, with Benthane showing them to their quarters. Shala waited a few moments for the others to leave, and then she approached Belfamor diffidently.
“Belfamor,” she said quietly, “I…I’m sorry.”
“Why?” snapped Belfamor, more harshly than he intended. Shala shrunk back from him, but she didn’t take her eyes away from his.
“Because it’s my fault that your mother and sisters were captured,” she said. “And it’s my fault that they’re still there.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Belfamor said with a sigh. “The only person who deserves blame is your father. Never forget that. All of this can be laid at his feet. Remember that, because I sure as hell won’t forget.” And with that, he turned away in search of Benthane, leaving Shala alone in the entryway.
To be continued…