Hey, all! For those of who you sometimes grace my website with your presence, I’d like to share a special treat with you! Below is an excerpt from my book EMPIRE IN FLAMES. The first chapter in fact, that follows one of the principle POV characters Nicholas Antoni. Check it out! Thanks!
Today would be a good day to die. Not for Nicholas, but for another.
Winter was near its end and only Kolovia in the east and the most northern principalities were still experiencing any type of real snowfall. Still, the chill bit at him. Perhaps his jacket was too light. The empire hadn’t tasted snow worthy of news until the last few weeks and it was apparent spring was taking her precious time. Sooner or later Mother Nature would need to make up her mind.
The package he held tight in his right hand was two feet long and a foot wide, wrapped in white paper and held together by a loose knot of yarn. He tucked it cautiously under his arm, buttoned his coat all the way up then readjusted the wool scarf around his neck.
Satisfied he was as protected from the frosty weather as possible, he stepped off the curb to cross the street, his boot crunching into the slushy snow on the pavement. Sessau’s capital, Aville, was a vibrant colorful place that even on its darkest days harbored mostly upbeat, smiling citizens.
Nicholas stepped up onto the curb on the opposite end of the street and turned down Savagni Lane, one of three primary thoroughfares often packed with excited tourists and workers either on their way to, or from, work. He passed the bistro from where he often ordered his cold cuts and saw just in time the barrel chested owner, Mr. Baird look up and throw him a wave. He smiled and waved back, but never stopped walking.
Savagni Lane began in the market district but ended at the city’s courthouse, the Palace, called since the medieval era from where past emperors reigned and dispensed justice. Today would be different, but only just. The Sessauan courts had tried and convicted a man by the name of Mathieu Danton for being a member of the revolutionary movement the Chained Hand and today, he would hang.
The crowd thickened as Nicholas neared the Palace. Throngs of Sessauan citizens mulled about on each side of the road, some even spilling into the streets and making passing cars slow down to avoid hitting the meandering people. The crowd was still hushed, awaiting the emergence of the soon to be executed revolutionary to appear from the court’s doorway in chains.
Nicholas pushed his way through the crowd, cradling the package meticulously in his right hand now. He bumped into a lady in a soft red dress and matching scarf, but she seemed not to notice. He kept going, heading toward not the front of the crowd near the Palace entrance, but along the edge.
Savagni Lane ended at a cross street simply named Palace Way, an east to west road that passed right in front of the palace which was almost entirely swarmed with anxious Sessauan citizens. A handful of cars and trucks were parked along the road’s edge, but if any of the owners returned to their vehicles, they’d find driving away through the sea of people almost impossible.
There was a truck, just off to one side from the main entrance that Nicholas inched closer to. He edged through the crowd, tossing an “excuse moi” out every time he accidentally bumped into someone by the lack of available space. He neared the truck and saw it was a food delivery truck, but he was unfamiliar with the name of the business embellished on the side.
People paid no mind to it, their eyes fixated on the doors of the Palace, fearful of missing that one fateful moment when the doors burst open. Nicholas meandered around to the truck’s front and leaned against the hood. Not yet, but soon, Nicholas assured himself.
He didn’t have to wait long. Less than thirty minutes had passed when the two great doors of the Palace opened, a half dozen Sessauan police officers escorting a man in a faded grey suit down the two hundred steps that made up the entrance to the Palace. The crowd went wild, their victory suddenly realized.
The case had been the conversation piece at every workplace and dinner table for months. Mathieu Danton had been a low level attorney in one of Sessau’s seedier provinces, charged with prosecuting small time offenders and if caught, members of the Chained Hand. Four trials and zero convictions later, a half dozen incensed Sessauans broke into his flat and discovered documents indicating he himself was a member of the Chained Hand. He was arrested smiling, citing that the evidence gathered was only discovered by violating his privacy and would ultimately be inadmissible in court.
Three days later Emperor Millot Mazuet cited that he would overlook this violation of privacy in favor of justice for the empire and allowed the trial to get underway. Was the emperor right, or was law to be upheld, even when guilt was so readily staring the nation in the face? This wasn’t a question to which Nicholas had an answer.
The court had answered, and Danton would hang for it. He was halfway down the steps now, his head hung low and his hands bound in metal cuffs.
The crowd was jubilant, and somewhere in the throng of bodies someone started singing Pour L’emperor et La Nation, Sessau’s national anthem. Nicholas observed the crowd and saw a toddler, no older than four or five years old, hoisted on his father’s shoulders and waving his arms. How sad of a nation Sessau had become, simpering dogs looking for whatever treat of justice was handed out to them.
Nicholas pulled at the knot of yarn and it fell away to the snow covered ground at his feet. He ripped away at the plain paper and turned toward the truck, kneeling to the ground. Held between his hands was a long rectangular piece of plastic explosives, molded hours before he’d wrapped it. He fished around in the pocket of his jacket and retrieved a small metal rod, about two inches long.
The crowd moved like a sea on the other side of the truck, and he saw a man’s feet on the other side of the wheel well shift about, but no one seemed to notice him. He held the block of explosives up, then stuck the end of it with the rod, driving it halfway into the mold.
With his hand now free he dug back into his pocket and pulled out a pair of pliers. The tube was a pencil detonator that contained copper chloride that would slowly eat through the wire that held the firing pin from a percussion cap inside the tube. The shortness of the wire inside meant once the chloride was released by breaking its container in the detonator, he had about thirty seconds to clear the area.
“Hey,” came a voice behind him, barely distinguishable over the symphony of the national anthem.
Nicholas looked up over his shoulder and saw a man, not much older than him, peering down at him. He was a wide shouldered man with a long wool coat and a scarf draped around his neck. His black hair was shoulder length but finely combed, a model Sessauan citizen if ever there was one.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Nicholas said nothing. He brought the lip of the pliers up around protruding detonator and squeezed down as hard as he could. The thin copper bent easily and the copper chloride inside was free to chew away at the wire inside.
“What the hell is that?” the man asked again and Nicholas felt the man’s hard come down on his shoulder hard. Nicholas tossed the block of explosives under the truck, attempting to get it directly under the engine block.
The man tugged at him, pulling him down onto his backside. Nicholas felt the cold snow press up against his trousers. The snooping man leaned down, trying to get a good look at what Nicholas had just tossed. His eyes suddenly went wide, and Nicholas realized at that moment that he couldn’t the man live. Not that it really mattered. Nicholas figured the man could have turned around and shouted “bomb!” a thousand times, but no one would listen to him. Not with their eyes fixed on a dead man walking.
The man started to turn back toward him, but Nicholas surged forward, his hands wrapping around the man’s skull and slamming it down against the metal bumper of the truck as hard as he could.
He didn’t wait to see its effect. He yanked the man’s head down again, then again, then again. The crowd around him was at the anthem’s crescendo now. Nicholas saw the blood splatter against the bumper on the third time, so he brought the man’s head against it one final time then released him.
The man slumped to the ground, face down. Nicholas saw the man twitch, but he wasn’t sure if he was still alive.
Nicholas turned, moving across the street as fast as he could, pushing people out of the way with little remorse for their insults about his rudeness. He turned and saw the gates of the Palace open, the police forming a fleshy wedge between the singing crowd and Danton as they escorted him toward a parked police car.
A police car parked right behind the food truck.
Danton was already dead, he was just performing the final dress rehearsal. Nicholas and the others in the Sessauan cell of the Chained Hand knew that Danton was going to die either way, and if he was to die, so too would citizens of the empire. “For every one of us you kill,” Nicholas once said, “we will kill twenty more, until our chains are broken.”
He turned back around and stepped up onto the curb across the street and headed back down Cavagni Lane at a full sprint. There was no time. He ran as fast as he could, passing wide eyed, strolling citizens wondering why a man was running full tilt down the street. The explosion suddenly rocked the ground beneath his feet just as he passed the Mr. Cuttini’s bistro, and he was thrown forward from the sheer force of the blast.