Culmination, Part 48

Admiral Kryla Zomulin knelt down in a small chapel in the Hall of Lords on Trisitania, her head bowed and her hands folded, surrounded by hundreds of small, white candles. She was doing something she hadn’t done since she was a teenager: praying. She had grown up in a devout family, but she had never taken the faith seriously, and as soon as she was old enough that her parents couldn’t make her go to church anymore, she’d left and not looked back. But she felt the need to pray now, after the battle she’d just experienced.

Perhaps she should have been praying a prayer of praise to the One for delivering victory to her forces, and indeed, there was an element of that in her prayer. Her fleet had won a smashing victory, at surprisingly little cost. She’d lost less than a third of her ships, and even the ships she’d lost had experienced minor casualties, with most of the crewmembers able to abandon ship. The ground forces, as well, had won an almost total victory, with minimal casualties. According to every measurable variable, the Battle of Trisitania had been a resounding success for the Emperor Valador.

If only it had been the only battle his forces had fought this day.

The raid by Neminatrix’s fleet on Hibellia had been devastating. Over three million people had been confirmed dead, and reports of casualties were still coming in. Hibellia’s defenses had mobilized quickly enough to destroy Neminatrix’s raiders before they could escape into subspace, but destroying the raiders didn’t undo the damage they had caused. Many of Kryla’s best friends lived on Hibellia, and she hadn’t heard from any of them yet. And so she prayed for their safety, or, at the very least, that their souls would find rest in Ashalala.

Valador was now the undisputed ruler of what was left of the Trisitanian Empire. But a bloody bill had been paid to make it happen.

Kryla wished she could be happy about the victory. She wished she could be excited that the civil war was finally over, and the Empire could now focus on reconquering the provinces that had broken away. But all she felt was sorrow, deep, black sorrow.

And anger.

Anger at herself, for going along with Belfamor’s scheme to take Trisitania. But also anger at Belfamor, for coming up with the scheme in the first place, and being so determined to see it through. Even though she’d agreed to lead the Imperial Fleet to Trisitania, it wasn’t as if Belfamor would have aborted the operation if Kryla hadn’t done so. The battle would have still happened, Hibellia would still have been raided, and although Kryla tried to be humble about her skills as a commander, she knew she was the best tactician in the Imperial Fleet, and if she hadn’t been in command, things would have gone much worse. If the battle had to have happened, then it was good that she had been part of it. But the battle should have never happened.

She wasn’t going to do anything crazy. Belfamor was still her commanding officer, and she had no desire to be insubordinate. But she had learned her lesson about helping him. If Belfamor Hemetal ever needed a favor from Kryla Zomulin again, he was going to get a frigid response.

Perhaps it was a mistake to pray with such anger in her heart. Her parents had always told her that the One showered his favor on those who forgave their enemies. But she couldn’t forgive Belfamor. Not now. Maybe not ever. If the One didn’t like that, well, he would have to live with it.

Finally, she sighed and stood up slowly, wincing at the pain in her legs. Being on your knees was surprisingly hard, especially when you weren’t used to it. Glancing around the small chapel, she nodded at the attendant who had been hovering in the corner while she prayed. It was his job to light all the candles whenever anybody used the chapel to pray, and put them out again when they were done. The candles were supposed to symbolize the Azari, the god-spirits who stood in the presence of the One. Or something. Kryla had never really paid attention in her religion classes.

Exiting the chapel, she looked all around at the main sanctuary in the Hall of Lords. It wasn’t the largest building in Selorin, not by a long shot, but it was still a truly impressive structure. Said to be the oldest building on Trisitania, it was certainly one of the few structures in existence that predated the Empire. It had originally been the primary center of the Trisitanian Church, and although it had since been supplanted in that role by the Sanctuary of Adralel, it still was regarded with reverence as the first church ever built. In theory, anyone who wanted to pray in the Hall of Lords was welcome, but in practice, because of its relatively small size and its great prestige, it was limited to the Imperial elite.

But the beauty and magnificence of the Hall of Lords couldn’t fix the pain in Kryla’s heart. It couldn’t bring back the three million who had died on Hibellia. Maybe they were all safely in the presence of the One now. Maybe they really were in a better place, like her parents had told her when her beloved grandfather had died when she was 7. She wanted to believe that, she really did. But the peace of Ashalala was a cold comfort to those still dealing with the brokenness of the here and now.

She sighed and squinted as she emerged into the bright sunlight outside the Hall of Lords. She had hoped her prayers would give her clarity and peace of mind, but instead she’d found the opposite. If anything, she was even more confused and angry than she’d been before. But all she could do now was just keep doing her duty. She would continue to serve the rightful Emperor until her dying day. And as long as she and Belfamor were on the same side, she would treat him with dignity and respect. But woe to Belfamor Hemetal indeed, if he ever found himself on the opposite side of the battlefield as Kryla Zomulin.

To be continued…

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