Authors: Ian Sales
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialog are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 Ian Sales
Published by Tickety Boo Press
Edited by John Jarrold
Copy-edited by Emma Compton
Cover Art by Gary Compton
Book Design by Big River Press Ltd
Ian Sales is represented by the John Jarrold Literary Agency
A Conflict of Orders
by Ian Sales is available as a signed limited edition hardback at:
A CONFLICT OF ORDERS
Book Two of AN AGE OF DISCORD
by Ian Sales
That belongs to Chian in the heavens and to those in the material world, and to the blessed Avatars, born or not yet born, who are to perform the restoration of the world. / It is they who shall restore the world, which will never grow old and never die, never decaying and ever-living. / When the creation will grow deathless—the prosperous creation of Chian, and Konran shall perish, though He may rush on every side to kill the Avatars; He and His thousandfold brood shall perish, as it is the will of Chian.
The Book of the Sun
(the holy book of the Chianist Church)
On hearing the crunch of footsteps on gravel, Ariman umar Vonshuan, Duke of Ahasz, put his book down beside him on the stone bench. He smiled. No footman had announced the visitors. That told him who they must be. In a manner of speaking, he had been expecting them.
Ahasz rose to his feet, pivoted smoothly about and crossed to stand beside the memory garden’s central statue. During the Intolerance, when the Henotic Church had been outlawed, the garden had been a mnemonic aid to the liturgy. Then, the plinth had been bare. Those times were more than a millennia past, and now it held a bronze of a hunter caught in the act of casting a spear. Both duke and hunter were slim men of medium height. The duke, however, wore a neat goatee beard of the same reddish-brown as his short-cut hair. And he was in his late forties, while the bronze was many centuries old.
The speaker led a group of three armoured men. So, not precisely the visitors Ahasz had been anticipating. Full-face bucket helms, with narrow slits of black glass; and, over padded coveralls, cuirasses emblazoned with a crown. Knights signet, clearly; but armoured? Knights of the Order of the Imperial Seal did not wear armour.
Ahasz rested a hand on the statue’s left foot.
“You have the advantage of me,” he said.
The speaker—and the only one not in armour—sketched a brief bow. “Sir Lovag demar Bortonor, your grace. I am here to take you into custody. On the orders of His Imperial Majesty.”
“I’ve done wrong?”
“Your grace, please: no games. We know of the fleet you have gathering at Geneza. We know of your plot to seize the Imperial Throne.”
“So I see.”
The armoured knights each carried a double-headed halberd, some six feet length and boasting an ornate spike and axe-head at either end. A strange weapon. They did not look entirely ceremonial.
“Your grace?” prompted Bortonor.
“I had expected the Noble Bailiffs,” Ahasz remarked. “Or someone from the Office of the Procurator Imperial—Norioko, perhaps.”
“Baron Kanban is himself in custody. You won’t be joining him, I’m afraid. My orders are to take you directly to the Imperial Palace.”
Ahasz wondered at the incarceration of the OPI chief. Norioko was a staunch supporter of the Throne, eager to bend laws in enacting the Emperor’s will. Sometimes perhaps too eager.
No matter. It was time to act. The duke tapped a code onto the heel of the statue’s foot—
The seat of the nearest stone bench shot upwards.
It described an arc through the air. A six-foot slab of decorated stone, with a charger buried within it—
And smashed down onto two of the armoured knights.
One tumbled clear, arm and shoulder clearly broken, cuirass dented and halberd snapped. Another fell beneath the heavy slab. Blood spurted as it crushed him.
The third stepped back and was missed entirely. As was Bortonor, who dived inelegantly to one side.
“To me!” shouted Bortonor, scrambling to his feet. He yanked his sword from its scabbard.
Ahasz moved. Sword in hand, he ran forward. Bortonor lunged as Ahasz came within reach. The duke neatly side-stepped, and thrust in with his own blade. The knight signet pivoted aside. The knight was good—perhaps even a master. But Ahasz was known as a brilliant swordsman.
Pulling his elbow in, Ahasz cracked Bortonor on the hand with his pommel. The knight signet grunted, but kept his grip. He pushed Ahasz away from him. And followed up with a stab at his chest. Ahasz parried. He knocked Bortonor’s blade wide. A hand to keep the knight signet’s sword-arm out. Stepped in and… thrust.
The point of Ahasz’s sword burst from the knight signet’s back. The duke’s aim was accurate—straight through the heart. Bortonor was dead before he hit the ground.
The surviving armoured knight moved forward, halberd held at guard. He swung his weapon. The axe-head swooped down. Ahasz dodged. Bent double, he lunged and his sword’s point hit the edge of the knight’s cuirass. The duke pulled back his blade. The knight brought up his halberd’s second axe-head in an arc. Ahasz dived to the side, rolled, and came to his feet.
More armoured knights ran into the memory garden. Ahasz counted a dozen.
“Isten! Sina! Sebet!” he yelled.
Figures boiled from the colonnades to left and right. Not the three Ahasz had named; more, many more. The approaching knights halted and turned their heads from side to side. Their helmets hid their expressions, but Ahasz could guess at the shock they felt. Ten, twenty, and still more, came rushing at them. And only three faces shared amongst them.
The knights gripped their halberds. Istens, Sinas and Sebets fell as spikes pierced their torsos, as axe-blades chopped into skulls, shoulders and limbs. A fine spray of blood filled the air. The clones made no sound as they died.
They were too many. The knights signet could not kill them all and were soon overwhelmed. Clones leapt on the armoured figures, bore them down to the ground. They ripped halberds from hands and helmets from heads.
Ahasz sheathed his sword, watched a moment as his clones subdued the knights, then strode away. He stepped carefully through the scattered body parts littering the garden. He felt no remorse, no sorrow. Clones were cheap, not quite human.
Ariman umar Vonshuan, Duke of Ahasz, was a clone himself.
The duke’s personal secretary, Bokaris, met Ahasz at the lift. They stepped into the shaft. As they crossed the threshold, a shelf slid out beneath their feet. Bokaris handed the duke a cloth. Ahasz set about wiping the blood from his sword.
“Contact Tayisa,” the duke ordered. “The waiting is over.”
“I took the precaution of informing the colonel he would be needed when I saw your visitors arrive.”
The lift decelerated to a smooth halt at the ground floor. Ahasz dropped the bloody cloth at his feet, and returned his sword to its scabbard. The pair stepped out into the entrance hall. Although technically a townhouse, the Vonshuan residence occupied an entire city block. It was one of the largest private houses in Gahara, the oldest district of the capital—not unsurprising, as the Vonshuans were one of the oldest and most powerful families in the Empire. The townhouse’s entrance hall was appropriately large and imposing. Stretching the full height of the seven-storey building, and capped by a great dome of mullioned glass, it was decorated throughout in the Vonshuan colours of red and gold. A floor of blood-red tiles, edges limned by channels of gold. Walls papered in pale gold, with a motif depicting the Vonshuan red winged snake. And to right and left, fine art in heavy frames: rococo landscapes featuring nobles in old-fashioned dress picnicking, partying, dancing… Ahasz appreciated classical art, and had chosen the entrance hall’s paintings personally from the family’s extensive collection.
A footman held up a jacket as Ahasz approached the exit. Another held a pair of gloves. The duke shot a glance at Bokaris—the choice of jacket was too… appropriate not to have been made by the secretary. A patrol pattern jacket in the colours of the Imperial Gold Watch. Ahasz was the regiment’s colonel-in-chief. It had been the Vonshuan’s own family regiment, until Emperor Poer I formed the Imperial Regiments over a millennium before.
At this moment in time, four battalions of the Gold Watch were en route to Geneza, where Ahasz was gathering an army.
Jacketed and gloved, the duke stepped outside. Eight vehicles floated impatiently on chargers in the courtyard: a command-car, leading six troop-carriers and a limousine. Ahasz approached the last vehicle. A tiger held the door open. The duke and Bokaris clambered in and settled back in ducal comfort.
“Where is Tayisa?” Ahasz asked.
“In the command-car, your grace.”
“Tell him to give the signal to move. The Housecarls garrison.”
Bokaris bent to mutter into a caster on the arm of his chair.
Ahasz, chin in hand, gazed out of the window by his side, watching but not seeing, as the motorcade sped though the archway from the courtyard and onto a narrow street. Three weeks ago, Ahasz had made a quick trip in his personal corvette to a nearby world. The destination had been immaterial—the purpose of the journey was to visit the nomosphere. It could only be accessed during interstellar travel, while the ship was in the toposphere. He needed to know what the Admiral was doing. And only in the nomosphere, that magical realm where information was made manifest, could he learn what he wanted to know. He had discovered that the Admiral—or, as she should properly be known, Princess Flavia umar Shutan, second in line to the Imperial Throne—was gathering a fleet at Linna to oppose him. Soon she would travel to Geneza.
And battle would be joined.
It was all a feint, of course. Ahasz needed to focus attention away from the Imperial capital. He had sufficient troops here to take the Palace. But he could not allow reinforcements for the defenders to arrive. So he would tie them up battling his army on Geneza.
He had considered bringing all his regiments and warships to the Imperial capital, and using them in his assault on the Imperial Throne. He had no desire, however, to become emperor of a blasted empire. He needed the government apparatus intact. He needed the ministries, offices and bureaux. Without them, he would be as powerless on the Throne as he had been before seizing it.
The caster on the seat’s arm shrilled, interrupting Ahasz’s thoughts. He grimaced, and gestured to Bokaris that he would take the call himself. It was a private line and few had access to it. He accepted the connection with a flick of the switch. A strange shape appeared in the glass: a silver ovoid, featureless, with two circular eyes of black glass.
“Involute,” acknowledged Ahasz. The Involutes were the senior members of the Order of the Left Hand. They appeared masked at all times.
“Your grace.” The masked head nodded. “It was not,” he continued, “our intention that you kill them.”
“The knights signet? I had little choice in the matter.” Ahasz smiled sardonically. “Armoured knights, carrying double-headed halberds. I had no other way of avoiding arrest.”
The Involute was silent a moment. “I had not thought they would send Ulani. It seems the knights signet know more than I had anticipated.”
“The military wing of the Order of the Imperial Seal. A closely-guarded secret.” Another pause. “But that is not why I contacted you.
has arrived in orbit. Commodore Magwagi will not bombard the Imperial Household District, but we are taking precautions to ensure he does not send his boats or marines. You needn’t fear her presence.”
The Involute’s news was no surprise—Ahasz had expected the dreadnought’s arrival. Her orders had been present in the nomosphere for him to discover and he had altered his plans accordingly. He had no fleet to engage
. Those warships he’d suborned from the Imperial Navy were en route to Geneza, to fight in the battle at that world. He could not rely on the self-interest of the Admiralty—however buttressed by bribes—to keep orbit about Shuto clear and deny the high ground to the Imperial Palace’s defenders. It was his intention this battle should be fought on land only.
“I can’t stop now,” Ahasz said. “The knights signet have forced me to advance my timetable. As soon as I reach the Housecarls garrison, I intend to give the order to attack.”