Culmination, Part 13

Kryla Zomulin fidgeted nervously as she stood outside the gates of a palatial manor on the outskirts of Caldamar, the capital city of Revellia. She wasn’t sure why she was nervous. In the back of her mind, she vaguely remembered being nervous the first time she’d taken command of the cruiser Decimator, back when Extrator IV first seized Trisitania. What a bloody business that had been. Not that she’d witnessed any of the carnage herself. The Imperial Fleet hadn’t fired a shot. The thousands of dead civilians had been laid at the feet of the Imperial Army, at the direct command of the Emperor. But Kryla still felt like she bore some of the responsibility. After all, Extrator had ridden on her ship.

She’d been nervous on that mission, but she’d hadn’t been nervous again since. Not even when her battleship’s shields were crumbling and she was outnumbered 5-to-1. So why was she nervous now? It couldn’t have been the manor. As magnificent as the manor was, it wasn’t nearly as grand as the manor she’d just left. Veilia Hemetal lived large, but not as large as her brother.

What if it was just the fact of meeting Veilia Hemetal for the first time? After all, she was wealthy and influential, a combination that would certainly intimidate any normal person. But Kryla Zomulin wasn’t exactly a normal person. She was a full Admiral, Vice-Commander of the Imperial Fleet, and possibly the youngest person ever to attain such a high rank. Someone like her wasn’t easily intimidated, even by a noblewoman.

Before she could contemplate her predicament any further, she shook her head, and reached out and pressed the screen mounted into the wall surrounding the manor. After a few minutes, the face of a young man appeared on the screen. “Yes?” he said.

“I am Admiral Kryla Zomulin, and I have an appointment to meet with Lady Veilia Hemetal,” Kryla said to the screen.

“Ah, yes,” the young man replied. “Just one moment, Admiral.” The screen went black again, and a few moments later, the gate swung open. Kryla walked up the path, sternly willing her fingers to stop their nervous fidgeting.

At the top of the stairs leading into the manor was the same young man she had seen on the screen. “Greetings, Admiral Zomulin,” he said with a deep bow. “I am Chonas Iliemu. Please allow me to escort you to Lady Hemetal.”

“Of course,” replied Kryla with a slight nod. Chonas led her into a magnificent entry hall, through a few sumptuously appointed hallways, and then into a tasteful yet richly decorated sitting room.

“Please have a seat, Admiral,” Chonas said with another bow. “Lady Hemetal will be with you shortly.” Kryla nodded again, this time slightly impatiently, and sat down in a plush, red armchair. She drummed her fingers on the armrests irritably, but it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes before Lady Veilia Hemetal glided into the room. Tall, blond, and willowy, Veilia might have been the most lovely woman Kryla had ever seen. Dressed in an elegant, floor-length dress, with her hair done in elaborate curls, she looked more like she was preparing for a formal ball than sitting down for an informal meeting with an admiral in her home.

“Admiral Zomulin, I’m pleased to finally meet you,” she said, bowing her head slightly to acknowledge Kryla as she approached and sat down opposite her. “I’ve heard so much about your accomplishments from my brother. I’d almost think he was in love with you, if he wasn’t so smitten with his wife.”

“I, um, that’s very flattering, I suppose,” Kryla said with a frown. “But that’s not really what I came to talk to you about. Have you, by any chance, heard anything about your brother’s plans for Neminatrix?” As soon as Kryla said that name, a grimace appeared on Veilia’s face and she shuddered slightly.

“I, um, I knew he had some sort of thought about trying to rescue Shala, but I don’t really know any details,” she said, averting her gaze from Kryla’s. “He doesn’t really talk to me about military matters.” Kryla frowned for a moment, confused about Veilia’s reaction, and then suddenly everything fell into place.

A decade ago, Belfamor’s wife had technically been his stepmother-in-law. She had married Belfamor’s father, the Head of House Hemetal, at the command of her father, the Head of House Votalin. But Beflamor’s father had attempted to protect Shala from Neminatrix’s perversions, and in retribution, Neminatrix had arrested and executed Belfamor’s father, and taken his mother and sisters prisoner. Belfamor had led a raid on the Imperial Palace and rescued Shala, but he and his team had been forced to retreat before they could rescue the others. A few weeks later, Veilia had been released in order to tell Belfamor that his mother and his other two sisters had been executed. Veilia had been just 15 at the time, and had suffered horribly at Neminatrix’s hands.

And that was the source of Kryla’s apprehension. Battle did not make her nervous. Commanding starships, commanding great fleets of starships, these things only made her feel more alive. They made her feel powerful. But the idea of being powerless, of being completely at another’s mercy…that was truly terrifying. She couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be in that situation. Even being close to a woman who had been raped and tortured was enough to make Kryla’s skin crawl. Not because she blamed Veilia for what had happened to her, but because Veilia was a reminder that such things were possible, even for someone with wealth and power.

“Do you trust your brother, Lady Hemetal?” Kryla asked, trying to forget about the thoughts and feelings she’d just dredged up.

“Of course I do!” Veilia said, looking offended. “My brother is one of the most honorable and courageous men alive. I would trust him to the very ends of the universe.”

“So, if he, by chance, asked you to do something that might be considered treasonous, would you do it?” Kryla asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Absolutely,” Veilia said firmly. “Even if I didn’t know why he was doing it, I would agree to it. I trust him completely.”

“What if he wasn’t your brother?” Kryla replied.

“That’s an interesting question,” Veilia said after a slight pause. She paused again and looked thoughtful. “I suppose I must admit that my views are colored by the fact that he’s the only member of my immediate family who’s still alive. I’d have to think about that one for a bit.”

To be continued…


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