Another day of nothing.
Rixken brought his anchor to a stop in a meadow and looked up at the heat lightning flickering in the shadowed sky. No wind. Little sound. Nothing but deep dark dancing with light.
Mechanical feet pounded the grass on either side of him. His squadmates. He ignored them in favor of the show, seeing something in it he couldn’t quite put to words.
Silver thread stitching the black together.
A war in the heavens.
He breathed deep and settled. Minutes passed and the storm continued. Remembered words came to his lips.
“And the storm came upon the mountain. And the fury of the storm was as the wrath of the Terai Darr. And Ankad knew he could not stand against it. And when he could bear no more, he gave himself up as lost. But a still small voice whispered…”
His radio crackled.
“Are you all right, your highness?”
“Just watching the sky, Tag.”
He looked away and scanned the meadow. Just another patch of brightgrass in the middle of the shadowgrass and dirik trees of the Vegaldan Lowlands.
Why had Orlin sent him here? Why the border between Maplen and Thirjen?
It made no sense. If Orlin wanted him dead, he could have sent him someplace where he was likely to get killed. At least then Rixken might have gotten something useful done.
HarTigend, Rakash Darr of Thirjen, hadn’t threatened Imperial territory once in his entire life.
He glanced at the sky once more, then shook himself before he got lost in it again.
He pushed off and the meadow fell behind, the sky it revealed quickly covered by dense canopy that shut out what little light there was with the storms above. Ladar, radar, and nightvision made a world in gray, a world of rough barked towers that reached thick branches high over his head, interweaving limbs into a path that an agile man could travel almost as fast as the forest floor. Animals flew, climbed, and leaped up there. All kinds of plants besides trees and shadowgrass grew up there, myriad and colorful, living on the branches.
But around him, nothing but the trunks, and the grass, and the occasional dark shrub.
And no one interested in arguing about whether or not it all belonged to the Imperium.
A note dinged and Rixken pulled it up.
End of patrol. That was as far as the commander had wanted them to run that day.
He told his men and turned around.
Four hours back, same as out.
Rixken unlocked the glacis plate. The heavy chest armor covering his cockpit tipped forward, revealing the border station’s rippled steel roof. After a moment getting his crash harness released and pulling the nerve connector off the back of his neck, he stood up. A few mechanics walked back and forth on the ground below, golden-yellow jumpsuits bright against all the gray steel and concrete.
He reached for the ladder, deployed automatically by the maintenance scaffolding. As always, it was hard moving again after sitting in almost the same position for eight hours. Massage rollers in the chair helped, but cramps still happened.
Thankfully, no pain exploded in his leg while he was climbing down. His first time in an anchor hadn’t gone so well.
No one met him at the bottom. The maintenance workers had stopped waiting around about a month after he got there. He preferred it this way, but it still felt lonely. Even once they got used to him and stopped falling over themselves to please, he was never one of them.
A mechanic walked past him with a quick bow and accessed the maintenance console hooked into the foot of his anchor.
They still fell over themselves to look after his machine, though.
Rixken stepped back and looked up at it. Five-and-a-half meters high, covered in slick, deflection-curved nanocarbon plate, currently painted in an eyebending green-and-brown forest camo. His Girden Mk1b. Entirely new-built and as good as the best technology at the time of the Night of Storms, plus a little.
He hated not fitting in with his squad, but that didn’t mean he would trade this beauty for one of their refurbished Danag mk2s anytime soon.
“Get it resupplied as soon as you can. I want to take it out on the range for live fire tomorrow.”
The mechanic nodded and made an adjustment to the queue on his duty tablet.
Rixken headed for the mess. They packed a lunch in their cockpits, but it was never anything spectacular. Someone had mentioned tilakko stew…
“Ay! Rixken ArdAnkadia?”
Rixken turned toward the harsh underclass accent. A short man, boy, in motorcycle armor was closing on him, waving an envelope and holding a long, thin package.
It took him a moment to adjust to the frankness. Even the lowest del’s in the barracks had never been that informal with him.
“I am. May I ask…”
“Pleasure to meetcha, your highness. There a place we can talk ‘round here? I have a message for ya, your eyes only an’ all that.”
“Oh.” He looked around, saw that the mechanic’s break room was empty, and pointed at it.
The messenger saw it, smiled wide with his ears out, and waved for Rixken to lead the way.
Rixken walked into the break room and heard the door shut behind him.
“Anyone ever tell ya yer too trusting, yer highness? What if I were an assassin, or some crazy?”
Rixken spun around.
The boy was working at the seal on the letter with a pocket knife, shaking his head.
“Sloppy security, too. Like maybe somebody wants ya ta get killed. Woulda thought somebody’d at least check my ID before lettin’ me in ta see ya.”
No real weapons out. No threatening moves.
Mips. He was sloppy. Palace security had taught him better.
The boy held out the letter and Rixken took it, noting that the seal belonged to Demir. The handwriting too. He scanned it.
What was Demir talking about? What did he need to be ready for? Get to safety? Why would Orlin try to stop him?
He flipped to the next page. The lower half was covered with signatures. The upper half said…
Said he was Preparer.
The Kaiag Rokoru.
Dear sweet merciful…
Aihay? What have they done? I can’t be Preparer!
Orlin is already Emperor!
Someone knocked on the door, then came in.
Tegar Mikli ParDaten, his commander. And… two infantrymen, with weapons.
“Your highness,” Mikli ignored the messenger. “I’m… I’m very sorry. The Emperor himself has sent orders that I am to detain you. I don’t know why, but I promise that you will be treated with the utmost respect at all times. I’m certain that it will all be sorted out quickly.”
Rixken had a very good idea why, and little hope that it would be sorted out ever.
He looked at Mikli. In the two years he’d served under the man… Mikli was unambitious, a fair commander satisfied with a peaceful posting. Not the kind of man anyone would paint as a hero out of legend, but honest. Faithful with his little bit.
He held the letter out to Mikli, showing only the second page.
Mikli glanced at him, then took the letter.
Rixken winced the moment Mikli’s ears pinned back.
He handed the letter back, stared at a wall, then turned back to Rixken.
“Please, go with the guards for now. I’ll have dinner sent to you straightaway, and I’ll make some calls immediately.” He sought Rixken’s eyes.
Rixken met his gaze. There was a storm going on in Mikli’s dark pupils.
Rixken nodded and walked toward the two guards, then stopped and looked around.
Where had the messenger gone?
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 thematic elements reminiscent of near-future military fiction such as Gasaraki or Isaac Hooke’s Atlas series and 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 each chapter as soon as it is released. Like and share to give me a shot of encouragement. Full chapter updates on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.