Belfamor Hemetal scowled down at the collection of tablets and papers on his desk. He’d done hours worth of meaningless busywork already today, and the pile on his desk didn’t seem to be getting any smaller. He wasn’t sure why he was being assigned so much garbage, but he had a couple of guesses. Either the Emperor was trying to keep his mind off his wife’s kidnapping, or Fanas was trying to keep him busy so he wouldn’t have time to work on his plan to invade Trisitania. Either way, it wasn’t working.
“Come in,” Belfamor said as the chime on his study door rang. The door slid open and a short, blond woman stepped in. Belfamor studied her as she approached his desk. Just shy of 40, she looked to be at least 20 years younger. She was dressed in the uniform of an Imperial Fleet officer, but something about her bearing made it look more like a trendy outfit from a boutique shop on Endragar or Cortaris. Her hair was cut and fashioned in the latest style, and her skin and makeup were perfect. Despite looking like all she cared about was fashion, Belfamor was well aware that she was one of the most effective and decorated officers serving under Emperor Valador.
“Admiral Kryla Zomulin, reporting, sir!” she said with a crisp salute as she approached his desk.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice, Admiral,” Belfamor said, returning her salute, and then gesturing to her to sit down. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve heard a great deal about your exploits over the past decade.”
“The pleasure is all mine, sir,” Zomulin said, settling down across from him. “Most of my ‘exploits’, as you call them, came about because of plans drawn up by you. All I did was carry out my orders.”
“Don’t be so modest, Admiral,” Belfamor said with a slight smile. “I may not have a great deal of field experience, but I’ve had enough to know that even the best plans aren’t worth the tablets they’re transmitted on. Everything always changes as soon as the guns start firing.”
“Ain’t that the truth, sir,” Zomulin said with a broad grin. “Even so, I’ve been in the Fleet for almost 20 years now, and your plans are the best I’ve ever seen. You might be surprised how few adjustments I need to make when I get my orders from you.”
“Well,” Belfamor said, blushing slightly, “now that we’ve both thoroughly complimented each other, perhaps we should get down to business.”
“Yes, sir,” Kryla replied, sitting up straighter.
“Admiral, you may or may not be aware of this, but we are at a critical turning point in the history of the Empire,” Belfamor began, folding his hands in front of him. “We have an opportunity to unify the Empire under one Emperor for the first time in nearly twenty years. It is a slim opportunity, but it is there, nonetheless. Taking advantage of this opportunity will require boldness, skill, cunning and a willingness to do things that are unconventional. I know that you are someone who possesses all these qualities.”
“Well, I’m glad you think so, sir,” Kryla said, sounding slightly confused and uncertain. Belfamor stood up and turned to the large windows behind his desk. Clasping his hands behind his back, he gazed out at the wooded hillsides rolling off into the distance behind his manor.
“I will be honest with you, Admiral,” Belfamor said, still looking out the window. “I’m planning to do something that may lead to my execution as a traitor, especially if my plans fail.” He turned back to Kryla and looked her firmly in the eye. “If you join with me, you will likely share my fate, whatever it may be.”
“Interesting sales pitch, sir,” Kryla said wryly. “How do you know I’m not going to sit here and listen to what you have to tell me, and then go straight to General Fanas?”
“How do you know Emelien isn’t in on this?” Belfamor asked, cocking his head to the side slightly.
“Oh, come on, sir,” Kryla said with a bemused smirk. “Everybody knows how much you and General Fanas hate each other. I already know that the main reason you’re thinking about doing something that might get you seen as a traitor is because General Fanas said you couldn’t do it.” Belfamor frowned at her, slightly petulantly, and then shrugged.
“Okay, fine,” he said, slightly irritated. “The truth is, if I don’t have you on my side, then I doubt my plan will succeed anyway. If you won’t join me, then I’d just as soon not proceed. And Emelien already suspects I’m going ahead with this, I would imagine.”
“How are you still Vice Commander of the IAF then?” Kryla asked, raising one eyebrow.
“Because I’m too rich for the Emperor to dispose of me,” Belfamor said with a shrug.
“Must be nice,” Kryla said, her eyes widening slightly.
“It has its advantages,” Belfamor replied, his frown deepening. “Do you want to hear my plan, or not?”
“Of course I do,” Kryla said, leaning forward slightly.
“I’m planning to launch a full-scale assault on Trisitania,” Belfamor said with intensity. “I will crush Neminatrix and unite the Empire under one Emperor for the first time in twenty years.” Kryla sat back again, her expression unreadable. She was silent for a few minutes, and Belfamor watched her carefully, trying to figure out how she felt about his proposal.
“And who will sit on the Throne?” she asked finally. “You or Valador?”
“Valador, of course,” Belfamor said with a confused frown. “I’m not really a traitor, you know.”
“Just someone who’s willing to disregard your orders to further your own ambitions,” Kryla said flatly.
“I’m willing to disregard my orders for the good of the Empire!” Belfamor said hotly.
“And the fact that Neminatrix just kidnapped your wife has nothing to do with your decision?” Kryla said, her voice coolly neutral. Belfamor stared at her stonily for a moment, and then turned away.
“I need a decision, Admiral,” Belfamor said, his voice hard. “Are you with me or against me?” Kryla regarded Belfamor’s back thoughtfully for a moment, and then she sighed.
“I need time to think about it, sir,” she said.
To be continued…