“We need to move quickly,” Xeliana said, as she and Velencias helped Hana walk down the hall and Shalaminas and Vedregela flanked them. “Ron’s cronies should be coming down at any moment to bring you to your execution. We would have been here sooner, but it took us this long to figure out where Ron was keeping you.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Hana said with a weak grin. “At least you got me out before Ron could lay claim to my head.”
“Well, let’s hope so, anyway,” Xeliana said with a grimace. They turned a corner and made their way up a flight of stairs, and two more members of Starfengt was waiting for them at the top.
“How’s the situation?” Xeliana asked.
“Everything is clear, sir,” replied Lt. Voranine Letraska, a young woman with short, dark hair.
“And our ride?” Xeliana said.
“Secure, sir,” Voranine replied. “The pilot is ready and waiting to take off immediately.”
“Excellent,” Xeliana said, “Let’s get out of here, then.” They quickly passed through the guard chamber, went up two more flights of stairs, and found themselves in a long hallway on the first floor of the Great Hall. There were three more members of Starfengt waiting for them there.
“Status!” Xeliana barked as soon as she saw them.
“All clear, sir!” Chief Petty Officer Morazek Iriain announced.
“Let’s keep moving!” Xeliana ordered, and the three that had been standing guard fell in with them. They slipped through the passageways of the Great Hall as swift and silent as shadows. They saw and heard no one, which seemed somewhat ominous to Hana, but Xeliana assured her that it was because anyone who was anyone was being assembled in the courtyard to witness her execution. That seemed like a decent enough reason for the Great Hall to be empty, but Hana wasn’t entirely convinced, considering the extensive measures Ron had taken to prevent her escape.
“Two more turns and we’ll be there,” Xeliana said quietly. Hana nodded as they turned the corner into a long hallway, but they only made it halfway before doors opened behind and ahead of them, and dozens of troops streamed into the corridor. Hana and the rest of Starfengt froze as they suddenly had numerous assault rifles trained on their heads.
“Xeliana Merane,” said a smug voice from behind the soldiers in front of them. A silent snarl curled Hana’s face as she recognized Ven Ron’s voice. “I wouldn’t have expected you, of all people, to betray the Dark Presence. A former Imperial, like Miss Hana Lodimeur, sure. Nobody was surprised by her treachery. But someone born and raised in the warm shadow of the Great Hall of Fangalin? Shocking, I must admit.”
“We are not the traitors here!” Xeliana called out, her voice ringing with pride and anger. “The only traitor in this building is you!”
“Me, Captain Merane?” Ron shot back, his voice more smug than ever. “Such terrible charges being flung about by someone caught in the act of rescuing a convicted traitor!”
“‘Traitor’ seems like a pretty good name for someone who would murder a rival in cold blood for the sake of naked ambition and then pin that murder on one of Fangalin’s greatest heroes, simply because that hero rejected your crude advances!” Xeliana shouted.
“There’s no reason for me to listen to this drivel,” Ron said with a superior little smirk on his face. “I was going to give you the dignity of a public execution, and the opportunity to confess your crimes and lighten the burden on your souls, but instead I think I’ll just have you gunned down in this anonymous hallway like the rats you are.” Ron raised his arm to give the signal to his troops to fire, but before he could give the command, there was a deafening explosion and the hallway filled with smoke.
“Go!” Xeliana yelled, as Velencias hoisted Hana over his shoulder and followed his companions through the huge hole in the wall left by the explosion before Ron and his troops could recover.
“What is going on!” Hana yelled in Velencias’s ear as she tried to ignore the indignity of being hauled around like a sack of potatoes.
“Our secret weapon!” Velencias yelled back, and Hana could hear the grin in his voice.
“What!” Hana yelled, confused, but either Velencias didn’t hear her, or was ignoring her, because he didn’t respond.
It was difficult for Hana to understand what was going on, considering her upper body was hanging down Velencias’s back, but she gradually realized that a pitched battle was happening in one of the Great Hall’s hangar bays. She couldn’t figure out who was involved, aside from Starfengt and the troops loyal to Ron. She twisted her head as much as she could to try and figure out what was going on, but all she could discover was that the troops aiding Starfengt were wearing Fangalin Army uniforms. Before she could figure out more, Velencias was charging up the loading ramp of a starship and it was closing behind him.
“We’ve got the package!” yelled Xeliana over her communicator. “All units, disengage and pull out immediately!”
“The package?” Hana said with one eyebrow raised as Shalaminas put her down. “Really?” Velencias just smirked in response.
“It’s good to see you again, Admiral Lodimeur,” said a familiar voice behind Hana. She turned, slowly, because of the motion of the starship taking off and because she was still wobbly from the diloxitin and from being hauled like a sack of meat across a battlefield. When she finally saw who was speaking, her jaw dropped.
“C-Colonel Latrafai?” she gasped.
“The very same,” Vondamisk Latrafai said with a small, pleased smile.
“What are you doing here?” she said, barely able to contain her shock. Her squad coming to rescue her had been enough of a surprise, but one she had expected, deep down inside. But a respected Army Colonel whom she barely knew? She wouldn’t have expected that in a million years.
“I told you once that I owed you a debt I could never repay,” Latrafai said solemnly, although he was still smiling. “Well, just because a man can’t repay a debt doesn’t mean he shouldn’t give it a try.”
To be continued…