The Darkest Heart, Part 24

Standing on the observation deck at the top of Heart of the Galaxy, Admiral Chieria Peltoren had a great view of the wreckage strewn around the planet of Amalania, and the surviving ships under her command. The ones that were still intact, and the ones that were…less so. The damage to Iron Dragonfly had been less extensive than initially feared, but it still would take several months to repair. Clearly, a Starfortress had vulnerabilities. Not that Chieria expected that too many captains would send their cruisers on a suicide mission, but obviously it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility. And if one cruiser could cripple a Starfortress, could two destroy it entirely?

In any case, despite that tragedy, the battle as a whole had been a success. Heart of the Galaxy still belonged to the Republic, the Imperial Fleet had taken devastating losses, and the Imperial marines who had boarded Galaxy were on their way to a prison camp on the planet’s surface. They wouldn’t be boarding any Republican ships any time soon.

Yes, the battle had been a success, but it left Chieria feeling a little dejected. Being on the bridge of Heart of the Galaxy once again had been a wonderful experience, but now she was going to have to go back to sitting behind a desk on Hadramoris. Which wasn’t all bad, of course, but it didn’t compare to commanding from the bridge of the the greatest warship in the galaxy.

Then again, maybe there would be missions like this again one day. Chieria Peltoren could but hope.

***

“Lord Hemetal, there is news from the Imperial Fleet,” announced Belfamor Hemetal’s chamberlain as soon as he entered Belfamor’s study. Grandal Vomelien had been in House Hemetal’s service since before Belfamor had been born, possibly even since before Belfamor’s father had been born. Tall and slim, with a fringe of gray hair ringing his otherwise bald head, he possessed a dignity and a poise that made most nobles look like incurably common slobs. He also was utterly and completely loyal to the Lord of House Hemetal, a fact that made Belfamor almost trust him.

Belfamor waved impatiently for Vomelien to proceed, and he said, “The Fleet suffered a devastating loss. Most of the ships sent to Amalania were destroyed, including Admiral Zomulin’s flagship, and all of the marines who boarded the Starfortress were taken prisoner.”

“A devastating loss indeed,” Belfamor said in a somber tone that was at odds with the glee in his eyes.

“Yes, my lord,” Vomelien said with a bow. “I’m afraid there is even worse news. The Emperor is dead.”

“Is that so?” Belfamor murmured, the glee in his eyes taking on a wild cast. “That is tragic news, indeed.”

“As my lord says,” Vomelien said with another bow.

“Thank you, Master Vomelien,” Belfamor said, turning away. “That will be all.”

“Of course, my lord,” Vomelien replied, bowing a third time and leaving the room silently. Belfamor got up and began to pace as soon as the door slid shut. Everything was falling into place now. It had been child’s play to leak the details of the Imperial raid to the Republic, and it had been just as easy to convince the Emperor, through a third party, to join the raid. Now Valador was dead, and the way was clear for Belfamor to replace him on the Imperial Throne. All he had to do was convince the Senate to elect him. And if they didn’t? Well, he had once promised Valador that he wouldn’t start a civil war if Emelien Fanas became the next Emperor, but that had been a long time ago, and Belfamor had been a different man then. Besides, Valador was dead now, and dead men didn’t care if people kept their promises or not.

***

Kryla couldn’t help a sigh of relief as the escape pod dropped back into normal space near Medradi. The trip had been fairly short, but escape pods weren’t made for comfort, especially when one of the occupants was a corpse. Now that they were back in Imperial space, she could hand off Valador’s body to people who could take proper care of it.

That was the easy part. Everything else was the hard part. Somebody was going to have to take responsibility for this disaster, and it was almost certainly going to be her. Which was deserving, of course. She had planned the attack, she had led the attack. She hadn’t ordered the attack, but the man who had ordered it was dead. That left her as the highest-ranking person who took part, and that meant she was going to take the fall.

But that was the least of Kryla’s worries. The bigger problem was that a new Emperor needed to be chosen, and the Senate hadn’t met in twenty years. Valador had begun the process of rebuilding the Senate. Elections had been held, and new Senators had been chosen. But most of them hadn’t made it to Trisitania yet. They had yet to meet, and now their first meeting was going to revolve around choosing an Emperor, the most important duty the Senate had. It was going to be a disaster.

The Senate’s inexperience was going to put Kryla between a rock and a hard place. There were only two men powerful enough that they were likely to submit their candidacies to the Senate: Belfamor Hemetal and Emelien Fanas. Kryla had been an ally of Lord Hemetal’s for several years, but she had serious reservations about backing a madman for the Imperial Throne. On the other hand, General Fanas would probably be less than thrilled about accepting the backing of a long time ally of his greatest rival. Kryla had been hoping to use her influence with Valador to convince Fanas that she would be a trustworthy ally, and then maybe the three of them could combine to diminish the power of House Hemetal. But that wouldn’t happen now. Valador was dead, and the stage was set for Hemetal and Fanas to clash over the Throne.

To be continued…

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