The Amarise House on the outskirts of Crez was the sort of place that had a reputation. A reputation that made adults avert their gaze when they had to pass by it, and children dare each other to sneak over the rickety old fence that surrounded it. Standing on the top floor of the three story house, looking out at a small knot of children who were whispering and nudging each other, Hana Lodimeur couldn’t help but smile. She didn’t mind that her house had such a fearsome reputation. Indeed, she’d spent ten years trying to build it.
Of course, Amarise House wasn’t haunted at all, but it suited Hana’s purpose to make people think it was. What went on here was top secret, authorized by Supreme Commander Zhemeen Fortulis himself, and then, after his death, reauthorized by his successor, Dren Calabane. What Hana Lodimeur had spent ten years building here was nothing less than the culmination of her life’s work.
Ever since her father had been killed by Imperial marines in the wake of his victory over two Emperors at the Battle of Endragar, Hana had made it her sole purpose to avenge his death. For ten years, she had sequestered herself inside Amarise House, devoting herself to building an elite special forces team dedicated to one goal: the death of Emperor Neminatrix IV. She’d had to learn a lot, as she had not been a soldier, but she had always been good at finding people to fill in gaps in her knowledge, and as the daughter of a soldier, it wasn’t as if she had been completely ignorant of military matters. After ten years, she would wager that there wasn’t a better military expert in the galaxy than her.
Her work wasn’t just theoretical, either. Starfengt, the unit she had built, was one of the blackest secrets in all of Fangalin, but those who knew of or suspected its existence were terrified of it. When the Supreme Commander decided to unleash Starfengt on a target, that target had no hope of survival.
Which made it all the more frustrating that the Supreme Commander had thus far denied her request to lead Starfengt on a raid of the Imperial Palace. She understood the political situation. She knew that Neminatrix was one of only two men who currently claimed the Imperial Throne, and that if he died, his rival, Valador Mifalis, would likely become the sole ruler of the Empire. She knew that Neminatrix’s death would put an end to the Imperial civil war and force Fangalin to contend with a united Empire for the first time in 16 years. All of that was clear to her. But she didn’t care. Starfengt existed to kill Neminatrix, and as long as he lived, Hana seethed with vengeful fury.
She sighed as she turned away from the window. The kids outside had failed to muster the courage to scale the fence, hopping on their hoverbikes instead and zooming down the street. Just as well, although she always enjoyed triggering Amarise House’s security systems. They were quite convincing. Amarise House had definitely earned its reputation.
Descending into the House’s interior, she looked around with pride at the sophisticated and modern decor, the complete opposite of the dilapidated exterior. Yes, despite her failure to kill Neminatrix thus far, what she had built here was definitely something impressive. Even though she hadn’t completed her life’s goal yet, she certainly hadn’t wasted the time she’d spent waiting.
“Captain Lodimeur,” said her second-in-command, a grizzled veteran named Commander Arcten Sidel, as soon as he saw her, “I just got a message from the Grand Council. They would be honored if you presented your petition in person at tonight’s meeting.” Arcten Sidel was in his early fifties, with a shock of salt-and-pepper hair, sharp blue eyes, a close-cut goatee, and a pair of scars, one just across his right cheek, and the other stretching from above his left eye, down to his jawline. He was slightly taller than Hana, and solidly built. He had been the first person Hana recruited for Starfengt, and in truth, he should have been the one to command. Almost everything Hana knew about leading a covert unit, she’d learned from Arcten. But she had offered him the command at least three times, and every time he’d refused.
“Oh great,” Hana said, rolling her eyes. “So nice of them to give me plenty of notice. I suppose I’d better get dressed and head out now.”
“Why even bother?” Arcten said with a frown. “You know what their answer will be. They’ve given you the same answer every time for ten years. It’s not like the situation has changed.”
“Because this is the mission that Starfengt exists for!” Hana said fiercely. “I gave the Council the greatest black ops unit in the galaxy! The least they can do is give me something in return!”
“Even if that something jeopardizes Fangalin’s objectives?” Arcten asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Don’t give me that political nonsense, Arcten,” Hana said with a sneer. “The Empire is weak, and it’ll be weak whether it has two Emperors or one. Valador Mifalis is a competent leader, but it’s too late for any Emperor to put the cork back in the bottle now. Fangalin is here to stay, and we’re stronger and better organized than the Empire has ever been. Our victory is inevitable, and it won’t be jeopardized if Neminatrix gets what he deserves!”
“Then tell the Council that!” Arcten roared. “You accuse me of spouting political nonsense, but every time you approach the Council, you try to convince them that killing Neminatrix would be good for the war effort! Don’t insult their intelligence, Hana. They may be politicians, but they’re not that dumb. Tell them what you told me. They know how much they owe you for building Starfengt. They just need a reminder.”
“Hmmm,” Hana said, stroking her chin. “Maybe you’re right. Perhaps I’ll give that approach a try.” She shrugged, and then barked a laugh. “The worst thing they can do is say no again!” She smiled warmly at Arcten. “Thanks, Arcten. You always have given the best advice.”
“Just doing my job, Captain,” Arcten replied stoically. Hana rolled her eyes affectionately at him, and then went to her quarters to get dressed for her meeting with the Council.
To be continued…