It's Fiction Friday! That means you get a piece of my original fiction... for free.
This is the third chapter of "Rose & Blade," a novella related to my published novel "Children of Aerthwheel." For the previous two chapters, see the link at the top of the page.
Rose and Blade
The automaton’s internal engines whirred and whined as it spoke to Azariel.
"Three battalions await your orders."
It was a pear-shaped machine built by the older people and salvaged for Azariel's personal use, now outfitted with a transmitter that allowed him to communicate with his soldiers. The robot stood chest high and filled the air with bitter steam. On its domed head was the transmitter that would send Azariel's orders to the troops at the far edge of the territories.
The hall was silent, save for the machine's persistent buzzing. Azariel's companions, mostly fellow warriors and soldiers, stood in quiet anticipation.
"Allow me a moment to gather my thoughts," Azariel said with his eyes closed. He stood at one of the hazy portholes that overlooked the ocean side of the airship. In the distance were the great steel behemoths that once bore holes into the ocean floor and leeched black blood from the planet itself.
"My Lord," the automaton said, "fifteen hours have passed since the battalions reached their current positions. They grow impatient."
“Open a direct feed," Azariel said. "Let me speak to him, Tinker."
The machine whirred and clicked, then Commander Delaquar's voice thundered through a small speaker on the automaton's chest. The hall was filled with his curse-ridden proclamations. He spoke in what many called the Mud Tongue, a lower and cruder form of speech handed down from the old people. He was a reformed mutant from the edge of the Outland, one of the few who had retained enough of their humanity to integrate into what remained of this so-called society.
He was in mid-sentence when the feed opened. He growled, "...and if you don't give us a damn order now, we'll just march right up to the enemy lines and start fighting on our own. You tell him that, you God forsaken robot! You tell him he can kiss my sweating ass if he doesn't want to give an order!"
"You just told me yourself, Commander Delaquar," Azariel said.
"Lord Azariel," the Commander said, trying to restrain the angry tone of his voice. "I apologize for the profanity, but my men need an order. It's bad enough we've traveled miles into the Outlands, almost to Lucero, but we're also low on rations. We've encountered no priests and the heat is worse here than I've ever seen in my life. Two of my men have heat sickness or some kind of radiation flu. It's been fifteen hours since we arrived at these filthy ruins and we have no idea what we're doing."
"Those ruins are the relics of your own ancestors," Azariel said. "Treat the place with some damn respect."
Azariel felt himself slip into the Mud Tongue. He smiled.
It was a natural and welcome transition.
"Ancestors or not," Delaquar said, "we're running the risk of getting pinned down here. So please let us know what the plan is, Lord Azariel. Or we'll make our own."
“The plan is simple, Commander. There is a vault beneath the so-called ruins upon which you stand. It is buried approximately one hundred seventy two feet below a structure called Bunker C, at the end of an underground service elevator shaft. You get to that vault and you open it, but you have every available weapon drawn when you do so. Do you understand?"
"What's in the vault?"
"Something unique," Azariel said, "and very valuable to the Good Queen."
"A weapon?" Delaquar asked.
"Some might think so," Azariel said. "It is a man. A very old and important man."
Delaquar said, "My Lord, should we be afraid of this old man?"
With a half-smile, Azariel said, "You should worship him."