The Darkest Heart, Part 25

“The One knows I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but this debacle is one of the most disastrous things that has happened to the Empire in the past 20 years,” said Emelien Fanas, tossing a tablet down on his desk with a look of disgust on his face.

“This is going to sound like me trying to pass the buck, but I did try to talk him out of this mission,” Kryla Zomulin replied, a stony look on her face. “And I tried to talk him out of coming along.”

“I believe you, Admiral,” Fanas said, waving a dismissive hand. “The old man had a stubborn streak a mile wide, and a desperate need to do something grand and glorious that would save the Empire before he died. Trust me, no one is going to blame you for this disaster. Anyone who knows what Valador was like will believe that he was the mastermind behind it. Your reputation is too good for anyone to assume that this idiocy was your idea.”

“Be that as it may, and I do appreciate it a great deal, we still need to deal with the fallout from this situation,” Kryla said, leaning forward slightly. “I assume you’re going to stake a claim to the Imperial Throne?”

“Of course,” Fanas replied, raising his eyebrows slightly. “I was Valador’s right hand man for almost his entire reign. I am the best qualified for the job, and everyone knows it.”

“I would agree with that,” Kryla said. “I imagine my reputation will be at least somewhat tarnished after this recent battle, despite what you think about the late Emperor taking the blame, but I suspect my support will still mean something to the Senate. Therefore, it is yours, if you want it.”

“And what will your ally, Lord Hemetal, think about this?” Fanas replied, looking somewhat surprised. “Given what you told me the last time we spoke, I will be very surprised if he does not also make a bid for the Throne.”

“Lord Hemetal doesn’t know it, but he lost my allegiance the moment he started undressing my niece with his eyes in my presence,” Kryla said in disgust. “The man is unhinged, and entirely too powerful where he is. It would be a disaster for the Empire if he was allowed any more power than he has.”

“I can’t ask for a better declaration of your allegiance than that,” Fanas said with a grin. “I would welcome your support, Admiral Zomulin.”

“We also need to start working on a plan to neutralize Lord Hemetal entirely,” Kryla said. “We both agree that the Senate cannot be allowed to choose him to sit on the Imperial Throne, but even if he isn’t Emperor, he still is the Head of House Hemetal, the wealthiest and most powerful noble House in the Empire. I am certain that he will go to war over the Imperial Throne, and he has the resources and allies to win such a war. Even before the Senate elects you to sit on the Throne, we need to makes sure that House Hemetal is weakened to such an extent that Lord Hemetal is not tempted to shatter the Empire once again for the sake of his hatred of you.”

“Nonsense,” Fanas replied, shaking his head. “House Hemetal has lots of money, but that’s all they have going for them. The military is loyal to me. If civil war breaks out, I will win it handily.”

“Even if you win a civil war, it will still be worse for the Empire than if there was no civil war at all,” Kryla said, trying very hard to mask her exasperation.

“Be that as it may,” Fanas interrupted, “I think I have enough on my plate with trying to secure the Throne. Lord Hemetal is an irritant who can be dealt with at a later time.”

“I really don’t think that’s wise,” Kryla began, but Fanas cut her off.

“When I want your advice, I will ask for it, Admiral,” he said in a hard voice. “Until then, I think your time would be better spent contacting senators and lobbying their support.”

“Of course, sir,” Kryla said, sounding more obedient than she felt. She stood up, saluted and moved toward the door.

“Kryla,” Fanas called, just as she was about to reach the door. She turned and looked at him, while he said, “If you think of any way to eliminate Lord Hemetal as a rival before the Senate meets, I would appreciate it.”

“Of course, sir,” she said with a slight nod. “I will be in touch.”

“I can’t ask for anything more,” Fanas replied with a slight smile. Kryla saluted again, and then made her way through the door. She had a lot on her mind as she rode in her private hovercar back to her apartment. Despite the gesture Fanas had made just before she left his office, there was no doubt that Fanas did not take her warnings about Belfamor seriously. And that was definitely going to cause problems, because there was no doubt in her mind that she was correct, and Belfamor Hemetal was going to start a civil war if he didn’t get elected to the Throne.

Unfortunately, Fanas had a point as well. How could they weaken House Hemetal to the point where Belfamor wouldn’t be tempted to start a war? House Hemetal had long been one of the richest noble houses in the galaxy, and under Belfamor’s rule, it had only grown richer. Money couldn’t buy success in a civil war (the late and unlamented CEO of Vinallix, Vibal Trogoron, who had briefly proclaimed himself Emperor Malador VI, was proof of that), but money combined with military skill and charisma, both of which were things that Belfamor Hemetal had in abundance, could, if not win a civil war, certainly cause it to drag on for many years. And a protracted civil war was the last thing the Empire needed right now.

To be continued…

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