Belfamor sighed and rubbed his hand wearily across his face as he tossed a tablet onto his desk, adding it to the small pile that was already there. It had been three weeks since his ill-fated raid on the Imperial Palace, three weeks that had felt like three years. There hadn’t been any word about his mother or sisters in that time, and every moment that passed without any news felt like a dagger twisting a little deeper into his heart. He had no regrets about ordering his team to withdraw when he did. Even with that, he’d lost two soldiers. But he couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t withdrawn.
At least he had rescued Shala. He felt like rescuing his father’s widow from her abusive father shouldn’t have been as important as rescuing his family, but he found himself thinking that if he’d been told he could only rescue one person from the Imperial Palace, Shala was the person he would have chosen. In fact, (and he wasn’t ready to say this out loud, but he could admit it to himself) it was possible that he was falling in love with her. Of course, politically, marrying Shala would be greatly advantageous, as it would rebuild the alliance between House Hemetal and House Votalin, at least once Neminatrix was dead, but it was also problematic, as it was well known that Shala was unable to have children. Although, Belfamor wondered how true that was, and if true, whether it was really irreversible. Belfamor was disinclined to trust anything that came from the mouth of Neminatrix IV.
He directed a pensive frown at the pile of tablets on his desk. He should have been working, not just sitting and thinking, but he had a lot on his mind. Emperor Valador had made him a full colonel after the raid, which made him quite uncomfortable, but Valador had refused to listen to him when he attempted to turn down the promotion. Belfamor hated the idea of being promoted for a mission that felt like a failure, but Valador had insisted that capturing Neminatrix’s daughter was well worth a promotion. Now Belfamor was on the staff of Valador’s SCIAF, General Emellien Fanas. All in all, things were going pretty well for Belfamor, but it was hard to be happy about his success when it had come at such a cost.
He let out an even deeper sigh when his personal tablet started beeping, letting him know that he had an urgent call coming in. Great, he thought, more work to do, and leaned forward, grabbed the tablet and answered the call.
“Colonel Hemetal,” said a young sergeant who was stationed at the entrance of the Command Complex, “there is a woman here to see you. She says it’s extremely urgent.”
“Who is it?” Belfamor asked, perplexed.
“I…,” the sergeant with a frown, and then shook his head. “Sorry, sir. She says I can’t tell you.” Belfamor stared at him, baffled, and then rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“Very well, Sergeant,” he said in a resigned tone. “Send her up.” For a few minutes, Belfamor sat rubbing his chin and staring at his desk, trying to figure out who this mystery woman could possibly be, and then the door to his quarters chimed. “Come in!” he called, swiveling his chair to see the door. As soon as it opened, his jaw dropped, because standing in the doorway was his sister, Veilia Hemetal.
“Veilia!” Belfamor gasped, knocking over his chair in his haste to stand up and embrace her. “How is this possible? How did you get out of the Imperial Palace?”
“The E…um, Neminatrix let me go,” Veilia said in a near-monotone. “He wanted me to deliver a message to you.” Frowning, Belfamor let go of her and stepped back. His sister looked like she’d been through hell. Her blond hair had once been long and luscious, and now it was a sickly yellow and cut short, like it had been hacked off with a knife. Once she had been vibrant and full of life, but now her cheeks were sunken and hollow, and she had a vague, unfocused look in her eyes. She wore a simple gray tunic that came down to her knees, and gray leggings that hung loose on her emaciated frame.
“What is it?” Belfamor said warily.
“He…he wanted you to know that your mother and two of your sisters are dead,” she replied, still in that near-monotone. Her eyes were locked on his, and he didn’t think she’d blinked yet. “He said that it was your punishment for stealing his treasure, and that your punishment would only increase if you refused to return what is rightfully his.” She stared at him with that unnerving, unblinking gaze, and he stared back, reeling from what she had told him.
“Mother is…dead?” he whispered. Veilia nodded. “And Trishel? Carista?” Veilia nodded again. Belfamor stared at her for a long time, and she stared back, seemingly unfazed by the grim news she’d brought. And then, finally, she blinked, and a single tear rolled down her cheek, followed by another, and then suddenly she was weeping, and Belfamor clasped her tightly to his chest and weeped with her.
For a long time, they stood like that, mourning their fallen family members and taking comfort in each other’s presence. Then, after what seemed like eternity, their tears ceased, and they released each other slightly and looked in each other’s eyes.
“Veilia,” Belfamor whispered fiercely, “I will protect you. Whatever nightmares you’ve experienced at the hands of that filth, they will never be repeated.”
“I know, brother,” Veilia whispered back. The vague look in her eyes was gone now, replaced with determination. “And I will do the same for you. House Hemetal fell for that bastard’s charms once, but never again. I swear to you now–and you’d better be on board with this–we will have our revenge.” Belfamor stared at her in astonishment, and then despite himself, he smiled broadly.
“Well said, sister,” he said warmly. “We will indeed have our revenge, but first, let’s see about getting you a place to stay.” He offered her his arm, and they walked out of his quarters arm in arm.