Belfamor had a grim expression on his face as he strode down a broad and lavish corridor of what had once been the governor’s mansion on Revellia. He was on his way to speak to the Emperor, and he didn’t expect that the Emperor would like his request, but he needed to request it anyway. Who knew? Maybe the Emperor would even grant it.
The corridor which he was striding through was part of an ancient and luxurious complex. Although still technically the Revellian governor’s mansion, it had been appropriated by Valador Mifalis almost twenty years ago as his palace-in-exile, until he could be properly enthroned in the true Imperial Palace on Trisitania. Until then, the governor’s mansion was good enough. Revellia was an old province, and the governor’s mansion was almost as old as the Imperial Palace anyway, and almost as luxurious as well, if not nearly so large.
Belfamor frowned and shook his head as he approached the doors to the Emperor’s study. This was no time to be thinking of frivolities! He had an important task here, and he needed to focus completely if he was going to carry it out.
The secretary in the outer room nodded to Belfamor as he approached, and waved him in. Belfamor was one of the few people who were allowed to enter the Emperor’s study without waiting for his permission. Belfamor wanted to believe that it was because of his rank and military acumen, but even he had to admit it probably had more to do with his money.
Despite the fact that Belfamor’s father had sworn allegiance to Neminatrix, and House Hemetal’s ancestral properties were located on Infanalis, a planet controlled by Neminatrix, Belfamor had retained access to the vast majority of House Hemetal’s financial resources even after he defected to Valador. Bank accounts controlled by noble houses employed a sophisticated genetic locking mechanism, which made it so only the rightful Head of House could access the account. Banks that did business with noble houses maintained detailed lists of their lines of succession, so that if a Head of House died, the bank knew exactly who was supposed to have access to the account next.
It was a good thing for Belfamor that such a system was in place, because even at that, Neminatrix had still attempted to seize the Hemetal fortune. Fortunately for Belfamor, even the bank executives couldn’t bypass the genetic lock, and they had certainly tried. Unfortunately for the bank executives, their failure to undo their own security had led to their deaths, and all of the bank’s assets that were not controlled by noble houses had been seized by the Throne. Belfamor had transferred House Hemetal’s money to a bank located on a province controlled by Valador soon after. Genetic locks were sturdy, but they weren’t completely unbreakable, and Belfamor had no intention of allowing Neminatrix another chance to seize his family’s money.
Belfamor took a deep breath as he entered Valador’s study. He wasn’t nervous, precisely. Just a little…apprehensive. Valador and Belfamor were close, even if that closeness was facilitated by Belfamor’s wealth, but even with those he was close to, Valador had a disconcerting habit of making you feel like you were a complete fool for holding to whatever viewpoint you were arguing for, even if he completely agreed with you. After a decade of serving him, Belfamor was more or less used to it, but it was still somewhat uncomfortable.
“Ah, General Hemetal,” Valador said with a fatherly smile as Belfamor entered. “What can I do for you, son?” Valador had a fringe of white hair around the top of his head, but a long, full white beard that went down past his chest. He was in his 80s, but he had the energy, focus and determination of someone a quarter of his age, tempered by the experience and wisdom of his long years. In more peaceful times, he might have been one of the greatest Emperors in history, but in these troubled times, he was likely to go down in history as a footnote. Even if he could defeat Neminatrix and gain sole possession of the Imperial Throne, it didn’t seem likely that he would have much time to accomplish anything lasting. It didn’t help that he was childless, as well. Even if he did unify what was left of the Empire, it would likely be thrown into chaos again a few years later when he died.
There were so many reasons for Belfamor to abandon Valador, and yet he stayed. In the end, Belfamor had given his oath to serve Valador, and he would not turn his back on that oath unless Valador turned on him. Besides, what other options did he have? Going back to Neminatrix would undoubtedly cost him his head, and he wasn’t about to leave the Empire. Despite its flaws, the Empire was the only thing standing between galactic civilization and chaos.
“I have a request, Your Majesty,” Belfamor said with a deep bow, “and I’m afraid you’re not going to like it.”
“You want to go rescue your wife from her father again,” Valador said with a sardonic grin.
“Well, that’s part of what I’m going to ask for,” Belfamor replied.
“Oh?” Valador asked, arching an eyebrow. “What else could you want on top of that?”
“It is my opinion, Your Majesty,” Belfamor said, “that if you are to have any hope of uniting the Empire under your rule, the time to strike is now.”
“Is that a crack about my age?” Valador asked with a straight face, although there was a glimmer of mirth in his eyes.
“Of course not, Your Majesty,” Belfamor replied, barely keeping his eyes from rolling in exasperation. “What I mean is, Neminatrix is weakening, and the weaker he gets, the more desperate he gets. This raid on my manor proves it. It is my considered opinion that we need to finish him off now, before he can do something that will cause irreparable damage to the Empire.” Belfamor took a deep breath, and then looked Valador firmly in the eye. “I propose that we launch a full-scale assault on Trisitania.”
To be continued…