Twenty years later…
Muffled sobs echoed off the walls of the room.
After a few minutes of listening to them while he recovered his strength, Orlin ArdAnkadia rolled up from his bed and left the ruined serving girl behind. From just a glance at the way her back shook as she wept, at the shiver of her long, pointed ears, and the red glow of his handprint on her bronze face, he could tell he’d be back for another helping. But right now he had a call to make. He couldn’t celebrate his election as Emperor all day.
He strode across the polished white kringwood floor in his bare feet, sat down at the silvery-gray harex desk, carved on the sides with the tower insignias of all the oldest warlords, and tapped the computer console that sat there. It came alive, scanning his eyes with a flicker of light before powering the screen and giving him a view into a three-dimensional desktop. He selected a map of the eastern half of Okend, the largest continent on Dankar and his present location. Projected onto the wall it glowed green with heavy forest interrupted by the yellow of an occasional field, with the deep blue of ocean running along the eastern edge.
It was an adjusted version of a centuries old satellite view that still showed the main highways intact, the factory cities all running, and the farms fully stocked. Given the depth of Okend’s forests, the information it provided was limited, but it did give perspective better than anything else. Red marks showed where things had changed for the worse since it was made.
So much red.
He focused on the rad-burned province of Akati, located on the other end of the Emprin isthmus from mainland Okend and left abandoned since the Night of Storms. With a flick of one hand he zoomed in on it. Then closer.
The symbol for the bunker appeared amidst the ash, dirt, and busted concrete covering everything. It was marked on the map in red, destroyed, but the probe had confirmed it was still there. It and everything it held.
All they had to do to get it was take the isthmus back from those cursed WarSisters. Why had they even come? The savage Irtrallans had arrived on the Night of Storms, conquered the only landbridge connecting Akati to Okend, and then sat there for two centuries, doing nothing but guard their borders. Very effectively.
The best report he had ever gotten was that their mission had been a mistake, doomed by the Storms just as much as everything else, but they had never gone home.
That lack of information was something he had to rectify.
An incoming call from Niril HarMakeg blinked in the corner of the desk console, derailing his thoughts. Usually that put him into a quiet rage, but he had been waiting for this. The announcement that the throne was officially his had gone out on the AM broadcast the day before. Niril could have called straightaway, but setting up a secure link across several provinces took time.
Orlin was actually surprised Niril had managed it this quickly.
He accepted the call.
Orlin smiled. Finally, the title was his. There was still a coronation, but that was just a formality now that the warlords had made their decision. The stodgy old keepers would eventually finish with their convocation and name him Preparer, but they had to make a show of deliberation first and remind him they still had a say in things. The power was already in his hands, though, whether anyone liked it or not.
“Are your forces in place?”
“I have everything I need waiting just outside the border,” Niril’s deep, hungry voice replied. “The extra units you sent will help greatly. Give the word and Ambril will be yours.”
A glance at the map found the province of Ambril occupying a large peninsula north of the Emprin Isthmus, it’s southernmost point separated from Emprin by a hundred kilometers and the shallow waters of the Clisto Sea.
Orlin smiled wider at the thought that it was almost his. Then sobered.
“Be as brutal as you wish. But the moment ArPegel surrenders… stop. There are two messages I want to send with this, and the second won’t be if I’m seen to have no mercy.”
“Understood. The moment ArPegel surrenders, my troops stand down.” His voice sounded eager.
“I need that artillery, HarMakeg, but I need the warlords more. If ArPegel dies, you will see me to have no mercy. Make sure he knows his options.”
“Yes, your Majesty.” Now he sounded less eager.
“I’ll have your orders cut and sent by noon, Niril. You can start whenever you wish after that. I look forward to your success.”
He cut the channel before Niril could reply. Noon was two hours away, and he still wanted to enjoy himself as long as he could.
It was so good to finally be in charge of things.
He started back to the bed, and the girl, but stopped one more time to glance at the map.
And the bunker.
Soon it would be his.
And then he would finally be able to put everything back together.
This chapter is part of the in-progress serial web novel The Unbroken Blade, intended to be book one in The Shattered Empire trilogy, and features a mix of sci-fi and cultural elements reminiscent of near-future military fiction such as Gasaraki and pure sci-fi combat classics such as Mechwarrior/Battletech and Gundam. The story is rich with battle and conflicts of honor and conscience arising around a civil war on the forested world of Dankar, far from our own, but is primarily focused on how the main characters deal with the challenges they face, not their machines or their world. Follow this blog to receive the next chapter as soon as it is released.