The call was coming. He knew it.
Orlin paced back and forth in front of the windows of the royal breakfast room, occasionally glancing out at the rising sun, just beginning to peek over the mountaintops yet stunningly bright even through tinted glass. Somewhere out there, beyond the mountains, hidden under the green sea of tree canopy, his brother was meeting his end. If he hadn’t already.
Let it be soon. And then he could be done with it.
“Your Majesty, forgive me, but perhaps you should rest? You have been planning with us all night and it would not do to risk your health.”
Orlin turned toward the long dark table and looked at his advisors, generals, Warlords, and economic and legal officials who had come to the impromptu meeting he ordered to keep himself from going mad while he waited. Some of them looked as tired as he imagined himself, none of them as stressed. All of them probably needed rest, himself included. But thanks to the Neralenes, there could be none of that for him. Not until the matter with Rixken was settled.
And even then, the cleanup would take months.
The meeting would end when he got the call, and not before. Until then, he would get as many pieces in motion as he could.
“Thank you for your concern, ArDaggen, but there is still work to do. We will have plenty of time for rest when the changeover is finished. PirChallin, how would you read HarBergan? He was Rixken’s mentor during his military training. Will he cause trouble over this Preparer mess?”
PirChallin, a man wearing the sharp, gold-bedecked white uniform of an Imperial VarTegar, with a face like old leather, and ears far too long for a native Easterner, sat back in his chair and meditated with his eyes closed for a moment. When he opened them he found Orlin and nodded.
“HarBergan won’t start a fight over almost anything, but the gerzai in his province are all in top repair. You can’t talk to the man without getting a “Kai’s mercy” or a prayer.” He paused, then grunted. “He doesn’t have any sons, you know, and Rixken sort of filled that place for him, as I hear. He won’t be the first to move, but he won’t let it drop.”
“What do his forces look like?”
PirChallin glanced at the man sitting next to him, much younger and with the less ornate markings of a Tegar. The man pulled up information on a tablet and whispered back to PirChallin.
“Put it on the screen,” Orlin said.
The tegar nodded and a map with force deployments appeared on a huge screen on the inner wall, showing HarBergan’s province in the west of Okend near the coast. Orlin glanced at the forces, tallied them in his head, then considered the assets he had around that area.
“Strengthen our forces on the roads in and out,” he said. “Double, at least. Pull from the southern hills. There’s nothing we need there and ArFolgen hasn’t moved in twenty years. Handle the rest at your discretion. MirKeffin, I want agents ready to take down air defenses throughout HarBergan’s lands. We need the factories in Wirigen intact.”
A slim man dressed in crisp blue-blacks nodded and made a note on his own tablet.
“You said earlier that you had most of the Keva stations suppressed. Which ones aren’t?”
“HarBergan is one of those. We have the stations mostly blotted out, but his networks are live with the information and our specialists are certain the radio is still working in his capital and the region around it.”
“Hmmmm. Who else?”
“We have little control over the Northeast territories, and most of the Darrs up there are very distressed about the invasion of Ambril. All of them have blocked our jamming efforts, so apart from Ambril and Yegrin, the Kevas have free reign.”
“What about the continental network? And the Neralenes?”
“We are deleting the information on the network as fast as we can, but local pockets are taking root everywhere. The Neralenes… Except for the Daughters of Ankad’s Charity, most of them have vanished. Probably into the underkingdoms. They spread the word on the street pretty wide. There are pamphlets on doors for miles around every chapter house.”
Suppression would work to some degree. It was a sign of power, a sign to the people that even if the kevas had chosen Rixken, Orlin was in control. It would also keep too many from finding out before Rixken was gone. It would all be old news after he was.
“Keep up the suppression, but don’t waste time hunting the Neralenes. Once my throne is secure, they’ll trickle back in.”
A manservant came into the room and bowed.
“Your Majesty, there is a call for you from Rakash Darr HarMakeg. Secure line. The techs have routed it to your private office.”
Orlin nodded and motioned for his advisors to wait for him. His private office was only a short way down the hall. Once there he checked the computer and found the call waiting. He hit receive and heard the speakers come alive.
“Niril,” he said. “Is it done?”
“My apologies, your Majesty. One of my units went rogue. They escaped with your brother.”
Orlin stared at the computer screen, tracing the lines of an ornate painting of red and blue flowers that served as the background. These were not the words he had expected to hear from the man. For a moment he almost couldn’t process them.
He really should have gotten some sleep. Tonight he would, even if it took drugs.
“How did it happen?”
“I sent Darra HarRukora’s Blue Sky Kerchaxes to set an ambush. They reported that they had intercepted the targets and retrieved both anchors, and appeared to be returning on the barges I sent them on. They were not on the barges when they got back to Ambril, and the barge pilots were tied up.”
“What have you done already?”
“I told the Black Wolves to move in and search the area where the ambush was, but there were no signs. The ambush was in Clisto, so there are plenty of roads they could have escaped on.”
It wasn’t going to end. Not easily.
He would have to make it end.
Orlin pulled up a map of Clisto and looked at the bordering provinces along with his force layouts. He quickly ran through the Warlords controlling those areas in his head.
“The Black Wolves reported another anchor fleeing with Rixken’s?”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“It must have been a Neralene. One of their agents.” Hmmmm. He ran his fingers across the desk, feeling the swirling florals and vines carved along the edge. “They’ll head south. It’s the only way open to them. If they can make it past the Emprin lowlands and my forces there, they can get on a ship at the Kellfro Freeport.”
“What are your orders?”
Orlin traced the possibilities a little further, then plotted countermoves.
“Have the Black Wolves move south in a wide formation and tell our forces in Emprin to triple their scouting parties in the area. I want forces posted around Lake Baergan on both sides. They may try to cut close to the Irtrallans, too, so keep scouts near the entrance to Irtrallan territory.”
He found a vine-rose in the pattern and ran his thumb over the swirling petals as he pondered the additional forces he would need to advance his plans before they could disintegrate any more.
“Call Reggs and tell him I want the rest of his Wolves moving to Emprin, no matter where they are right now. Call the Red Knife Army too and negotiate a contract for four battalions to bolster your forces in Ambril, and after that in Emprin. Tell ArPeleg my patience runs out in two days. Prepare to do whatever you need to after that. I want my forces free, not tied up threatening that fool. And pull the navy in close to Kellfro. They can hunt pirates later. I don’t want Rixken slipping off on a ship if he makes it through Emprin somehow.”
“As you wish, your Majesty.”
“And Neril? The Kerchaxes die when you catch them. All of them.”
He waited for confirmation, then closed the line.
Nat. He should have had his brother killed in his sleep a year ago.
His advisors were still waiting when he walked back into the breakfast room.
He beckoned to the manservant who had told him about the call, first.
“I want a girl, a bottle of wine, and some sleeping pills waiting in my room in twenty minutes.”
The servant nodded and left.
He found his spymaster.
“MirKeffin, find the Neralenes and put together a plan to get rid of them. I don’t care what it involves, but wait for my go ahead. Also, identify every darr like HarBergan and put together a report on each of them, with solutions.”
MirKeffin nodded, hiding a faint smile by raising his tablet in front of his face.
Orlin turned to PirChallin.
“PirChallin, tell the Warlords around HarBergan they can have his land and I will look the other way. As long as they are finished in two weeks. If they need support, open up the local supply depots to them.”
PirChallin grunted and sent his aide off with several messages.
Orlin looked around the room, taking in all the rest of his personal cabinet.
“Matters with my brother will be closed soon, but not as soon as I had hoped. So, we will use this as an opportunity to clean house of everyone who has misplaced loyalties.”
He drew himself up and smiled at them, showing his canines.
“We will have peace. I assure you.”
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.