The Darkest Heart, Part 4

“Absolutely not!” growled Belfamor Hemetal, slamming a tablet down on his desk. He glared up at the general standing in front of his desk, who was sweating and looking like he’d rather be anywhere but where he was.

“Sir, if you’ll just look at the proposal,” the general began, but Belfamor cut him off.

“I don’t need to look at the proposal,” he snarled. “I know exactly what it says, and I’m telling you, it’s not going to happen.”

“His Majesty would appreciate it if you would at least consider,” the general began again, but once again Belfamor cut him off.

“I don’t give a damn what His Majesty wants!” he roared, slamming his fist on his desk, rattling the pile of tablets and making the general jump. “Valador knows full well that he can’t proceed on this without my approval, and he’s not going to get it! Now get the hell out of my office!”

“Yes, sir!” the general saluted, snatched up his tablet, and practically ran out of Belfamor’s office. Belfamor glared after the man for a few moments, and then he shook his head and sighed. There had been a time when he didn’t have such a temper. He could barely remember what those days were like. Then he scowled again, thinking about the proposal that had just been presented to him. Although the general who had brought him the message claimed the proposal was from the Emperor, Belfamor could smell Emelien Fanas’s foul hand in it. Fanas was the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Armed Forces, or SCIAF, the highest rank in the Imperial military hierarchy, aside from the Emperor himself. Belfamor, on the other hand, was the Overall Commander of the Imperial Army (OCIA), the highest rank in the Army, but one step below SCIAF. Belfamor hated Fanas, loathed him with a passion that he had formerly reserved for his father-in-law, and it chafed at him to no end to have to take orders from such a pig. Fanas would do anything to undermine Belfamor’s control of the Army, and this proposal was proof.

Valador couldn’t remove Belfamor from command of the Army directly. House Hemetal was the richest noble house in the galaxy, and had only grown richer in the past few years. Valador depended on Hemetal’s support for funds to run the Empire, especially since the Senate had only just been reincorporated after 20 years of inactivity, and hadn’t been able to actually meet yet. But Belfamor knew that Valador didn’t trust him. For two years, Valador had been trying to squeeze Belfamor out of his control of the Army without letting Belfamor know what he was doing. But Belfamor was too smart for that. The Imperial Army was his, and he wasn’t going to let anyone take it from him without a fight.

This latest proposal was just more evidence of Valador’s duplicity, and his subservience to Fanas. Valador wanted to replace the OCIA with a committee of five generals. Belfamor would be the chairman of this committee, but he would have to get at least two generals to agree with his plans before he did anything. Ridiculous. In 20 years, the Army had never been stronger. Why mess with a good thing?

Belfamor knew exactly why the Emperor wanted to mess with a good thing. Emelien Fanas was putting pressure on the Emperor to get Belfamor out of the OCIA office. Well, it would never happen. Valador liked Fanas better than Belfamor, but Valador needed Belfamor. And that wasn’t going to change.

A beeping sound made Belfamor jump, and he scowled at his desk for a moment before he realized that it was his secretary paging him. “Yes?” he growled.

“Sir, you are receiving a call from the Emperor,” his secretary replied.

“Put it through,” Belfamor said. A moment later, a hologram of Valador’s head appeared in the air above Belfamor’s desk. “Your Majesty,” Belfamor said, trying and failing to sound respectful.

“Having a bad day, General?” Valador replied with a smirk. “I just talked to General Faralai. He reckons that he just barely got out of your office with his head still attached.”

“As well he should, considering what he wanted me to look at,” Belfamor snarled.

“You still think that I’m trying to sack you?” Valador said in an exasperated voice. “By the One, man, all I’m trying to do is lighten your load. You’ve been working yourself raw for the past four years. I thought maybe you would appreciate not having quite so much responsibility.”

“Well, you would be wrong,” Belfamor snapped. “I like my work life just fine, thank you very much.”

“Oh yeah? And how are things going at home?”

“That’s none of your damn business!” Belfamor roared.

“And what makes you think that?” Valador snapped back. “You are one of my most trusted associates, but if you burn yourself out with overwork because you’re too afraid to deal with your problems at home, then you’re useless to me!”

“Don’t give me that crap, Valador,” Belfamor snarled. “I know full well that all you care about is my money!” Valador blinked, and his face became as cold and hard as stone.

“Is that what you think, Lord Hemetal?” he said in soft, dangerous voice. “Well, let me show you much I care about your money. As of right now, you are relieved of duty.”

“What?” Belfamor gasped, his eyes widening.

“You heard me,” Valador said in the same soft, dangerous voice. “Go home, make love to your wife, play with your son, and get your head on straight. Once you’re ready to act like a sane man, you’re welcome to resume your duties. But I’m not going to have a lunatic in command of my army.” Immediately the connection was severed, and Belfamor was left staring at the blank space above his desk.

For a few minutes, he just sat there, trying to convince himself that the Emperor was just bluffing, but when four burly and heavily armed MPs came into his office and respectfully told him that they were there on the Emperor’s orders to escort him from the building, there was no denying that what had just happened was real.

To be continued…

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