Authors: Tyler Chase
VAN LAVEN CHRONICLES
THRONE OF NOVOXOS
Copyright © 2014 Tyler Chase
All rights reserved.
To my wonderful family, the joy of my life, Tracy, Kennedy and Ethan. All my love.
As the execution drew near, the muted roar of the crowd grew louder in the cramped arena as spectators crowded into the aisles and walkways, making passage nearly impossible. The aristocracy gathered at the mid-level balcony seats, separated from the common hordes by a thick layer of armed guards, who moved through the place scowling as they shoved and kicked back the crowd as if they were feral dogs.
On this occasion, it was imperative that order be maintained. The most prominent citizens of Nethic would be in attendance, including those of the ruling house. Indeed, His Royal Grace, Crausin Van Laven, the Grand Duke of Nethic, would oversee the proceedings. He would naturally be accompanied by his wife and their three grown sons.
As their transport vessel descended into the midst of the arena, their eldest son, Lord Comron Van Laven, stood tall at his father’s right shoulder and gazed soberly upon the execution platform. It was an ugly, primitive structure of wood, rusted iron and thick braided ropes. Blood stains from executions past darkened the stage and rickety stairs. The metal slab and gleaming control panel seemed grossly out of place in this ancient setting. Nonetheless, the audience’s visceral connection to the archaic structure guaranteed its continued presence for generations to come.
Six shackled men stood at the center of the platform. Four were military officers stripped of insignia and rank, the other two were well-known political officials. One of the prisoners was stretched out on the metal slab, stoically awaiting his punishment.
Comron surveyed the throng of spectators. Their animated expressions were varied as were their vocalizations, demonstrating the mixed nature of their sentiments.
“Kill them!” shouted some.
“Free them!” cried others.
As the royal transport touched down, trumpets blared and drums began to beat. The nobility responded by rising to their feet, the rest of the crowd surged forward against the unyielding wall of guards. Their eyes turned toward their sovereign as he approached the vessel’s podium.
Comron stood back, watching his father, knowing the speech so well he could have delivered it himself. The ingratitude of their subjects had incensed the heir to the Nethicaen throne. How quickly they’d forgotten the horrible conditions they’d endured before his father began his reign. It had taken enormous pain and sacrifice, but Nethic was once more an economically viable state and a major contender in their sector of the Sellusion Empire. No one doubted that it was his father’s genius that had propelled Nethic to the upper echelons of the minor houses and yet some would have Crausin on the rack instead of the prisoners.
“Good citizens of Nethic, I bid you welcome!” the Duke cried out and the crowd erupted with an equal measure of cheers and groans. “We have gathered for an event that deeply troubles my spirit. It saddens me tremendously to see the once protectors of our great and glorious kingdom,” he extended his hand toward the prisoners, “become its enemies.” He raised his voice over the howling of the crowd.
“My council has worked tirelessly over the past several years to address the needs of the people. For we understand that certain fundamental parts of our system are broken due to neglect, causing a great number of our citizens to suffer. But there is no simple solution, profound change cannot come overnight!” As Crausin waited for the cries to subside, he glanced over at Comron – he stood nearly a head taller than most men and possessed a fierce look in his striking green eyes, while his raven black hair contrasted sharply against his fair skin – he was the very image of his father.
“The economic and social restructuring required to adequately serve the needs of our citizens necessitates sound methodology and planning. Full implementation of these initiatives requires your patience.” Again he was met with a mixed response from the crowd. “We are committed to delivering on all of our promises.” He raised his fist. “I swear, we will not claim victory until each and every citizen of Nethic benefits from the bounty and prosperity of our labor. I’ve sworn to raise all of Nethic, so that all of Nethic will be glorified. But to accomplish this, I need your support and absolute loyalty.” His voice thundered, “Nothing will derail us, traitors to Nethic will not be tolerated!” For the first time the roar of the crowd was overwhelmingly positive.
He signaled to the executioner to man his station. “For the glory of Nethic!” he shouted. The crowd responded as one, “For the glory of Nethic, the glory of Nethic!” He signaled to the guards, who responded by herding the prisoners up the stairs of the execution platform.
The drum beat grew louder and the throngs stomped their feet in unison. The Duke and Comron exchanged knowing glances as they shared a singular thought.
The delicate balance had been shifted. It is the prisoners’ blood the people demand, not ours.
The Duke nodded his consent for the torture to begin.
The executioner passed his hand over a gray control panel. A blood-curdling scream pierced the air and a hush fell over the crowd as they watched the prisoner’s body buck and convulse under the assault of the disruptor charge. After a few seconds, the executioner lifted his hand from the panel. Despite the prisoner’s earlier bravado, he now whimpered in remembrance of the agony.
Comron glanced to the Duke’s left where his mother stood in statuesque beauty. Her face was a mask of practiced tranquility. Even at the crack of the new cries, she barely flinched, demonstrating her full support of her husband’s authority.
The grueling episode repeated itself once more, before the executioner stepped up behind the quivering prisoner, wielding ominous ostako swords in either hand. The jagged, spring-loaded shafts remained enclosed within the main blade. He awaited the Duke’s signal to administer the death stroke. When the signal came, the executioner deftly drew the blades across the prisoner’s neck, tripping the ostako switch so the blades shot out severing the prisoner’s head from his shoulders. The audience cried out in horror as the bloody head hit the ground, then bumped and tumbled down the rickety stairs.
The moment it reached the bottom, the crowd cheered lustfully for more. The decapitated corpse was removed from the slab and the next prisoner was dragged forward.
Comron noted the Duke’s weary expression and shared his discomfort.
, Comron projected his thoughts to his father,
it is such a waste of competent officers, but now that they’ve turned traitor, they are no longer of any use to the crown.
He watched absently as the executioner’s assistants worked the restraints, securing the new prisoner. Therefore, the next scene was quite surreal for Comron. Three of the escort guards turned and opened fire on their fellow guards. The shackled military officers swiftly moved into action retrieving the weapons of the fallen guards as the crowd erupted in total mayhem.
As a single unit, the royal guard poured in around the Duke and his family. But Comron glanced up in time to see a projectile strike the force field surrounding them. The field crackled and hissed before completely evaporating, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to attack.
“Get us out of here!” Duke Crausin barked over the deafening roar of the crowd.
“Sire, we’re trying, but navigation has been taken off-line,” shouted the commander.
“What in the blazes!” Crausin said. “Switch to manual operation.”
The vessel lifted unsteadily and pitched forward, spilling them unceremoniously to the floor. The Duke cracked his head against the wall.
“Shield the Duke!” Comron ordered, before grabbing a blast rifle and leaping over the side of the vessel down into the melee.
“Comron!” Crausin yelled as blood streamed down the side of his face. But the guards encircled him, cutting Comron off from his sight.
Before Comron hit the ground he’d already managed to drop two of the prisoners and one of the rogue escort guards by blast-fire. He moved swiftly for a man of his height, keeping a cool head in the chaos. As three of the traitorous guards rushed him, he leaped into the air and twisted. His foot struck the guard’s head and snapped it. He came down and drove the butt of his rifle into the face of the other. Blood gushed from his nose. He kicked the third treasonous guard in the chest, sending him sprawling back and gasping for air. Comron grabbed the man’s neck and gave it a sharp twist.
One of the remaining prisoners fired his weapon at Comron but he dove to the ground, barely avoiding the projectile. Off to the side, one of the Duke’s guards joined him and fired on the last rebel guard. The prisoner turned his attention away from Comron to assist his comrade. That was all the time that Comron needed to close the distance and engage the prisoner in hand-to-hand combat. While a shot through the head would have been more expedient, Comron had something better in mind.
The prisoner feinted to the left, but then slammed his heavy fist into Comron’s face and hammered another one into his gut. Even as he doubled over in pain, Comron admired the former military officer’s fierce and adept fighting skills.
Comron came up surprisingly fast with two jabs to the traitor’s left side before darting out of range. The prisoner stumbled back and braced himself. Comron dashed in again, landing powerful, lightning fast blows, cracking the man’s ribs, and then slipped back out of reach.
As the prisoner stood stunned, Comron favored him with a taunting grin, beckoning him to attack. The prisoner growled and charged him. At the very last moment, Comron bent to the side and twisted to slam his knee up hard into the traitor’s gut, then drove his fist down across the prisoner’s back. As the man staggered away from him, Comron gazed up into the screaming throngs now barely restrained behind the iron barriers and the disorganized regiment of guards.
They were shoving and clawing at each other just to have a look at him – their valiant prince, fierce in the midst of battle.
Now was the time to act decisively.
He jumped up onto the execution platform and retrieved the ostako swords still dripping with blood and bits of flesh. He returned to the prisoner who was still upon his knees struggling to catch his breath.
Holding the swords aloft, Comron looked out into the sea of faces and a hush fell over the transfixed crowd.
“For the glory of Nethic!” Comron roared. The crowd erupted in a frenzy as he drew the blades across the prisoner’s neck for a clean decapitation. He snatched the severed head by the hair and slung it out into the outstretched arms of his adoring subjects.
“For the glory of Nethic, the glory of Nethic,” they cried till the rafters shook with their voices and unfettered revelry.
Elated, Comron grinned at the crowd until he caught sight of the Duke’s transport moving toward him. The vessel dipped down, allowing him to climb aboard.
“That was a very foolish thing you just did,” his father said. “You could’ve been killed!”
“But I wasn’t,” Comron replied with a glint in his green eyes. “Further, it worked to our advantage. Listen to them!” He gestured at the sea of chanting throngs. “We have won their favor and reinforced our intolerance of treason.” He gave him a self-satisfied grin. “We have also reminded them why house Van Laven itself is a force to be reckoned with.”
Comron saw the gleam of admiration in his father’s eyes and felt the strong sense of pride emanating from him. Nonetheless, he waited for the obligatory chastisement.
“Regardless,” Crausin snapped. “See that you leave the public dirty work to others.” He glanced up at the ever-present surveillance devices. “This little scene won’t play well before the Imperial Reserve Council as they consider our bid for a board seat.”
Comron laughed, still exhilarated from the rush of adrenalin. “The board is in grave need of a major overhaul. A few less heads might be precisely the cure.”
“Save your bloodlust for the faust fields.” The Duke pulled his son aside. “I need you to focus on what just happened here and discern the real threat.”
“The real threat is that our navigation system’s codes were compromised,” he said without hesitation, “which means that the rebels have infiltrated the highest levels of our central security division.”
“Good, but what else did you observe?”
Comron’s brow furrowed. “There was something about the way the rebel guards moved…”
The Duke nodded. “Their fighting style was elegant, but blunted in comparison to the way Nethicaen soldiers are trained.”
Comron’s eyes widened. “You suspect off-worlders…House Bastionli?”
“I cannot be certain until we’ve interrogated the survivors. If House Bastionli is behind this, they will pay dearly for their meddling.”
After the day’s tumultuous events and the subsequent review of the intelligence gleaned from the interrogations, the Duke of Nethic sat alone in the darkness of his room. The glowing light from the viso-screen illuminated his face and he welcomed a bit of distraction at the late hour. The images on the screen were vivid and striking. Milky-skinned, naked bodies undulated rhythmically on black silken sheets, the male masterfully handling the flaxen haired beauty who moaned appreciatively for him. As her verbal expressions of appreciation grew louder, Crausin became even more grateful that the observation room had been insulated for sound years ago.