The view on her visor was bad.
The next great leader of the Ankadarul knelt on the floor of the cell with his forehead on the fiber mat, probably praying, but looking more like someone had socked him in the guts and dropped him where he stood. Chiseled face, athletic build, long ears and smooth, olive skin. If it hadn’t been for the fact that his dark hair was one step short of a military buzz and the fact that he was crying…
Well. He would have been handsome. But no man looked handsome when he was crying.
Definitely an uninspiring image of the future.
“Nik,” Zem whispered into her throat mic. The view panned to the left. Nothing but wall and another cell. “Jo.” It panned to the right. There was the guard. Only one, and he looked bored. Maybe sleepy.
Good. She liked her job easy when she could get it that way.
Of course, she would have preferred even more for her job to be peaceful rather than easy, but she didn’t have the time for that today. One of her fellow agents in Velgrin had sent word: The opposite of peaceful was headed her way, and it was after the new Preparer. She had to leave now, with the Preparer, or not at all.
“Dokup.” The view approached the wall directly over the guard and stopped, looking straight down on him. She turned the laser on with a thought and a symbol appeared in a corner of the view.
Charged. The symbol turned red and a crosshair appeared. Laser ready.
She put the crosshair right on the back of his neck and sent the fire command.
Zem walked around the corner and stalked past the cells to the guard, rolled his body up against the wall, and checked his pulse.
A slappy patch of sedative to the throat made sure he would stay out. She had business to take care of, and she didn’t want interruptions. While she was making him comfortable, a somewhat useless proposition seeing he would have a stun headache no matter what she did, she also recovered the keys to the cells.
“Maxten!” the prince called out. “Maxten, are you alright? What happened?”
Zem stood up and clucked at Bristi. The armored kerchax released her grip on the ceiling and dropped down onto Zem’s shoulders with a flurry of wings.
Zem took two steps to the left and stared the prince in the eyes.
“You!” he said.
“Of course.” Zem pulled out her Neralene ID and flashed it in front of his face. Unlike her messenger ID, it showed her normal look and listed pertinent details like her actual sex.
“Field Agent Zemril NerMagten. I’m here to rescue you, your highness.” She unlocked the cell door and slid it open. “But first, I do have another package to deliver.” She unshouldered the long bag containing the sword.
Rixken stepped past her and knelt down to check on the guard.
“You didn’t kill him.”
“Your Highness, we don’t have time right now for you to worry about a few soldiers. The Emperor has a company of anchors on the way to level this outpost and you with it.”
He looked up at her, eyes wide, ears attentive.
Then stood up, walked back into the cell, and sat down on the bench.
Zemril followed him, bag in hand, studying his face.
What was he thinking?
Make the delivery. Just get him to take the sword, then get him out of there. Or maybe just get him out of there.
She shucked the bag off the sword and held it out to him.
“I’m under orders to deliver this to you. You’re the Preparer. It’s yours now.”
He looked at the sword, then shook his head.
“The kevas made a mistake. I won’t start a civil war.”
He looked away from the sword, leaned back against the wall, and closed his eyes.
He opened his eyes and looked at her again.
“You should get out of here. I’m the one they’re after.”
“Your Highness… what, exactly, are you saying? I said there is an anchor company coming to kill you. They will do it.”
“I heard you. It will be better for the Empire if they do. Then Orlin will be uncontested and there will be no war.”
Zem parsed what he said twice.
Stun him. Stun him and drag him out of here.
No. She was strong, but he weighed half again as much as her. She was not making it out of here carrying him. Or dragging him. And there was no way she would ever get him into either of her chosen escape vehicles.
Not to mention the fact they both only had room for one person.
She was going to have to convince him.
Therapy was not her strong suit.
“You really believe the Empire is better off with your brother as its leader?”
He looked away from her eyes.
“I believe it will have peace.”
“Your brother the rapist?”
“Is a civil war better or worse for the people than that?” he said.
Hmmm. Try again.
“How about your brother the murderer?”
His eyes snapped back to hers.
“He is not…”
“Eleven. By proxy. That’s the number we’ve confirmed. Mostly people who got in his way, but also several young women who made too much of a fuss.”
“There have never been any charges brought…”
“Who would dare?”
He dropped his eyes to the floor and was quiet for a moment.
“It’s still better than a civil war.”
Did he really believe that?
Right then an explosive shell impacted somewhere on the base. The sound slapped the building they were in. A moment later a klaxon screamed and Zem heard men yelling and running outside.
She still wouldn’t be able to drag him out. Not fast enough. And he wasn’t going anywhere.
She tightened her grip on the sword, then looked at it.
Maybe… maybe it had the answer.
Or its maker did.
She drew the sword in a soundless pull and laid the blade across her other arm, even with Rixken’s eyes. The motion caught his attention again.
“Okay, let’s try it this way. Do you believe the promise written on this sword?”
She tilted it so he could see the words.
His eyes flicked across. Flicked across again.
“Okay. And do you think Orlin believes this promise and will try to discharge the duties of a Preparer?”
He started to shake his head, paused, then shook it with emphasis.
“Alright. And is there any other ArdAnkadia in line to inherit who does believe who will try to carry out the duties?”
The silence stretched on. The gunfire drew closer. She noticed a tiny tremor running through his body.
Yes. They were going to die.
“I’m not as strong as Orlin,” he said, breaking the silence. “I have trouble ordering around a squad. I could never hold the Empire together.”
Nat. Why did he have to be such a milksucker?
She was gonna have to dig deep. Back to all those theology lessons she had ignored while doing her math homework instead of taking notes.
Or maybe some of the scripture she had… skipped reading.
What was she going to say to this guy? It was the whole Empire he was about to be responsible for. The original Empire, wherever people followed the Teachings, and not the little bit that still paid taxes to the Emperor.
Final tactic: prayer.
Kai… no… Great and wondrous Terai Darr. What do I say? This is your thing, right? I… kind of need help… I don’t know how to get this guy to do his job…
Gemigstak! She didn’t even know how to pray.
Even Imrien, with all her wheeling and dealing behind the scenes, knew how to pray.
Another shell impacted somewhere on the base. Two. The explosions shook the bars of the cell.
Aihay, in the Name of your sacrifice…
Words floated into her head, remembered from a page, a page glimpsed as a child on a rainy day recovering from a broken ankle, when living itself had seemed too hard.
“Believe in me, trust in my Name, and I shall be your strength. Armies shall strive against you, but though you are one and they thousands, you shall overcome.”
The words of Aihay to Ankad on the mount of Red Flowers, when Ankad had expressed the exact same sentiments as Rixken… over a much smaller kingdom. Shame flooded Zem at forgetting that moment, a moment that had given her hope again, even as she opened her mouth and spoke the words out loud.
Was that her voice? That husky, tear-strained thing?
Rixken looked up when she finished.
She met his eyes and held them.
Rixken lifted his hands, palm up, for the sword.
“I stake my life upon the promise of Aihay, and the surety of the Name,” he said. “May he be my strength, and I his servant, all my days.”
He had to have repeated that from somewhere else.
She laid the sword in his hands.
“By the authority of the Kevas of the Ankadarul, I declare you the Kaiag Rokoru.”
No fire. No wind. No magic.
Everything was ordinary…
Rixten’s eyes widened. His mouth opened a little.
The tiny little tremor in his body vanished.
“What? What happened?” she asked.
He took the sheath from her hands and slid the sword into it, stood up, and wrapped the swordbelt around his waist.
He looked at her, then shook his head.
“He’s here. Thank you for encouraging me.” He tilted an ear, as if hearing the gunfire for the first time. “Do you have a plan for getting out of here?”
She gritted her teeth. Hadn’t he been listening!?
“Of course I do.”
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.