The Darkest Heart, Part 3

Try as she might, Shala Votalin simply couldn’t get used to living on Medradi. Known as the Rock (which would give an outsider some idea of how desolate the planet was), Medradi was mostly notable for being the headquarters of the Imperial Armed Forces. Imperial soldiers loved to boast about how the Rock was invincible, unconquerable, but Shala privately felt like the real reason nobody had ever conquered the Rock was that no one else wanted it.

She sighed as she gazed out over the blasted wasteland that was visible from the window of her study. Four years now, she’d lived in this desert. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, the mansion that Shala lived in with her husband, Belfamor, and her son, Vendamil, was perfectly comfortable and quite beautiful. But all the technology in the galaxy couldn’t change the fact that going outside on Medradi was a miserable experience. She had always loved going for walks in her garden on Revellia, but there were no gardens on Medradi.

She sighed again and turned back to her desk. Brooding about having to live on Medradi wasn’t helping her get her work done. With her husband obsessively wrapped in his work with the military, it was up to Shala to handle the affairs of both House Votalin and House Hemetal. Not that she had to do all the work herself, of course. Both Houses had an extensive staff to handle all the day-to-day tasks, but somebody needed to overlook the big picture, and that somebody was Shala. It was hard work, but surprisingly rewarding, and it at least took her mind off of how miserable she was.

Just as Shala sat down, there was a soft knock on the door. Shala looked up and, although her face didn’t change at all, her heart felt like it was dropping down into her stomach.

“Excuse me, Mother,” said Vendamil quietly.

“Yes? Can I help you?” Shala replied, tearing her eyes away from him and focusing on one of the tablets on her desk. Try as she might, Shala couldn’t look at her son anymore without being overwhelmed with feelings of loathing and fear. Four years ago, when Vendamil had been just five years old, he had betrayed Shala to her father, a ruthless tyrant who’d had an unhealthy obsession with his only daughter. Although Neminatrix had eventually repented of his crimes against her, and Shala had forgiven him, she still couldn’t forget the torment she’d been put through before that point. Nor could she forget that it was her son who had put her there, all because she wouldn’t allow him to attend Imperial University at the age of five.

“I was wondering if you had gotten a chance to look over that message I sent you,” Vendamil said in a quiet, near-monotone. Shala glanced up at her son for a moment. He was looking at his feet, standing perfectly still. He was small for a nine-year-old, with mousy brown hair and a slight build. Physically, he took after his mother in almost every way. Except for his eyes. His eyes were the same brilliant blue as his father.

“I’m sorry Vendamil, I have been very busy,” Shala said, looking back down at the tablet in her hand. “Once I have finished my work today, maybe I will have a chance to look it over.”

“Of course, Mother,” Vendamil said. There was no sound after he spoke, and after a few moments, Shala glanced up and saw that he was gone. She leaned back in her chair and, with a sigh, began massaging her temples. What a mess her life had become over the past few years. Her father was dead, and once she would have expected that fact to be a glorious one, but instead it brought her nothing but pain. Right before his death, her father had come to his senses and given up his obsession with her. Shala almost wished that he hadn’t. For a few wonderful days, Shala had thought that she was on the verge of having a real relationship with her father, but instead he had been gunned down by a Fangalin assassin. And so something she’d once thought would bring her joy brought her grief instead.

And if that had been all, it would have been enough, but of course it wasn’t. Her need to grieve her father had driven a wedge between her and her husband. For almost a decade, Shala and Belfamor had been madly in love with each other, but now they could barely stand to be in the same room as each other. Belfamor had amassed an armada to assault Trisitania and rescue Shala when she’d been captured by her father, and he resented the fact that Shala was grieving her father’s death. He’d expected her to be overjoyed at her rescue, and the fact that Neminatrix died in the process should have been a cause for celebration. Especially since Neminatrix had murdered Belfamor’s father, mother, and two of his sisters. Belfamor had absolutely no feelings of grief over the death of his father-in-law. And Shala didn’t expect him to. But he wouldn’t even allow her to grieve, and she resented that. And so they departed to their own little worlds, and their marriage died a little bit more every day.

Not for the first time, Shala considered going back to Revellia. That was the only place she’d ever lived where she’d been happy. But it wasn’t the place, it was the people. And if she went to Revellia now, she’d be going there without her husband, and without her son. And it would be a tacit admission that her marriage had failed. No matter what else happened, she didn’t want that. Deep down inside, she still loved Belfamor. But he refused to admit that she needed to grieve her father’s death, and until he did, there was no way she could show him love. There was a wall between them named Neminatrix, and that wall had been there since before they were married. How ironic that after his death, the wall would only grow stronger.

To be continued…

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