Culmination, Part 44

Belfamor and the rest of the 3rd Battalion met surprisingly little resistance as they pushed through the halls of the Imperial Palace, searching for Neminatrix and an end to the civil war. Neminatrix’s troops had fought fiercely in the streets of Selorin, but it was almost as if their morale had been decimated by their enemies gaining access to the Palace itself. The 3rd Battalion wasn’t even encountering very many troops, and those they did encounter retreated almost immediately, after only putting up a token effort. It was possible that Neminatrix’s troops were just completely demoralized, but Belfamor suspected that the 3rd battalion was walking into a trap.

“What do you think, Captain?” Belfamor said to Leatoreai Avredai, who was walking alongside him.

“I think you’re right, General,” Avredai said with a grim frown. “It’s definitely a trap, and you know how I know that? Because something is jamming our communications, so I can’t even contact the rest of the unit and warn them of my suspicions.”

“Crap,” Belfamor said with a sour expression. “Guess we just need to be on our toes then, huh?”

“That’s the understatement of the year, sir,” Avredai said drily.

***

Shala and Neminatrix moved quickly through the corridors of the Palace, closely surrounded by their guards. Shala was frightened, of course. It would have been impossible not to be frightened when a room you were in suddenly went dark and armed assassins burst in and started shooting. But she was also strangely exuberant. Her father was going to abdicate, and he was doing it for her. The long, slow-motion nightmare that had been her life thus far was finally ending, and happier days were coming. She had dreamed of this moment for so long, but she’d never really believed it was possible.

Finally, she and her father could have a real relationship. And it wasn’t just for herself and her father that she was excited. Her father’s change of heart also gave her hope for her son, Vendamil. If her father could change at his age, then surely there was still time for her little boy. Of course, they needed to survive this attack before any of her dreams could truly come true. But she was optimistic. After all, what was surviving an assassination attempt compared to convincing her abusive father to love her?

***

I’ve got him now, Hana kept thinking to herself as she crept swiftly through the halls of the Imperial Palace. It was a thought borne of firm conviction, tinged with a hint of desperation. In the back of her mind, the feeling that all of her preparations and the sacrifices of her team might be in vain kept popping up, but she ruthlessly pushed it back down every time. She was so close. She needed to be the one to kill Neminatrix. She would be the one to kill Neminatrix! She wouldn’t be able to truly let her father go until the man responsible for his death lay lifeless at her feet.

Hana and the other members of Starfengt hadn’t met a soul since they’d left the command center, but that wasn’t surprising, considering their access to the Palace’s personnel tracking network. The PTN registered the lifesigns of every human being in the building and used sophisticated motion trackers to triangulate their positions in real time. Hana and her team had devices in their body armor that masked their lifesigns, of course. Trying to infiltrate the Palace otherwise would have been suicide. But as far as Hana knew, such technology was beyond the capabilities of the Empire, giving Starfengt a massive advantage over their adversaries.

“Echo Two,” she said over the radio, “I want you to set up an ambush at the crossroads of corridor 774 and 775 in section E36 on level 5. It looks like they’ll be heading down 774 in a few minutes. I want you to make sure they take a right into 775 and head towards the Throne Room.”

“Copy that, Echo One,” came Arcten’s response.

“Echo Four, I want you to do the same at the crossroads of 775 and 778,” Hana said. “That should ensure that they will pass through the Throne Room.”

“Understood, Echo One,” replied Vedregela.

“Team One and Team Three will be on the upper balcony of the Throne Room. Team Three will provide support while I eliminate the target.” Acknowledgment came back from every surviving member of Starfengt, and Hana nodded in satisfaction. The plan was in place. All that was left was to execute.

***

Shala, Neminatrix, and their four surviving guards limped into the Throne Room, gasping for breath and praising the One that they were still alive. Shala was no soldier, but she’d been married to one for 10 years. She’d seen a lot over the course of that decade, but she’d never seen anything like these assassins. They were devastatingly effective, superbly well trained. She found herself wondering whose troops they were. They couldn’t be Imperial, because she couldn’t imagine that Valador had such skilled soldiers without her knowing about it, and they most likely weren’t Neminatrix’s, considering they were trying to kill him. Not that treason was impossible, but her father seemed as stunned by the existence of these soldiers as she was.

No, they were almost certainly Fangalin. Ever since the destruction of the Senate, Fangalin had been at least two steps ahead of the Empire, technologically and logistically. In fact, Shala recalled that she had heard rumors of a terrifyingly effective squad of assassins being deployed by Fangalin ever since the death of Extrator IV. It was seeming highly likely that those rumors were true.

“We can’t stay here, sir,” the highest ranked surviving guard, a corporal, said as Neminatrix slumped against a pillar to catch his breath. “The Throne Room is too exposed.”

“I know,” gasped Neminatrix. “Just…just give me a minute.” The guard frowned, but Shala could tell that he was well aware that her father wasn’t going to last much longer at the pace they’d been moving. She opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, the huge double doors leading into the main entrance of the Throne Room swung open and dozens of troops poured inside.

“Don’t shoot!” Shala screamed, running forward with her arms outstretched, because it was obvious from their uniforms that these were Valador’s troops.

“Shala?” said a familiar voice, and her heart skipped a beat. It was her husband, Belfamor.

To be continued…

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