[Note: This novel is the fourth in the Melody and the Pier to Forever saga. The fifth novel, The Angel's Guardian, was released just a few days ago! You can read both here.]
OTORO QUERIL woke with the howl of demons, as he had every morning these past six years. He rose with the rest of the barracks, who, with him, marched to the latrine to begin their day. Those near him gave a little extra space for him to pass; a man at a basin looked up at his approach and immediately left it free. There were others in line to use it; when they saw him they backed up.
He didn’t notice them. He approached the basin, grabbed a washcloth off a pile of them, and proceeded to clean himself. When he finished he tossed the cloth on the floor and stalked off to the toilets. The line waiting at the nearest one saw him approach and stepped out of the way. The man emerging from it hurried out of his path. Otoro Queril closed the door behind him and sat over the wooden hole after pulling his underwear to his knees. He relieved himself, wiped himself, then exited the stall. The men stared as he strode by.
He dressed at his bunk, opened his locker, and grabbed his head mask. There were two long-handled battle axes waiting inside. He snatched the ornate one with the gray-blue blade and slammed the locker closed.
“Dreadnought’s just getting in,” growled the dock taskmaster as Otoro passed. “Have a good day, executioner!”
Otoro Queril continued on without looking back.
Tracluse marched alongside him through the dark streets of Imperium Centrum. The sun was just rising, the light muted by the ever-present gloom that hung in the sky like a sagging, moldering blanket.
Three misons ahead were the Administration Buildings. Hidden behind them was the Audience Chamber. Above it hung the Emperor’s Throne. The glint of gold on it caught the weak early light, which caught his eye. He stared at it for a moment before turning right for the docks, his sergeants calling out time.
“Otoro the Butcher” some called him. “Otoro the Bloody” said others. But most simply called him “The Executioner.”
Mephastophians marched alongside him. He paid them no attention. They did not scare him as they did the other Tracluse. They had their tasks to do, as he did.
At the docks he marched to block 14, which was his permanently assigned block, and cleaned it. It was located close to the offloading ramp, which Tracluse were cranking into place. The just-arrived dreadnought loomed like a massive shadow over him. He finished and waited.
The portal into the belly of the great ship opened. Tracluse aboard it shouted, “Off! Off!”
Whips cracked and people cried, their voices muffled and echoing. Mephastophians winged overhead.
Here they came. The latest Lottery of the Lord Emperor.
An Imperial dreadnought could haul up to ten thousand of them. This one arrived from the Emperor’s Saturnius and Galen.
Down the ramp they stumbled. Cracking whips made them hurry and crowd in closer to one another. Executioners at other blocks waited.
Tracluse began singling people out. There were cries of anguish as friends and family members were separated, but the whips silenced them quickly. Those singled out were pushed and prodded to a block.
A middle-aged man was pushed to his and kicked to his knees. He fell against it. The Tracluse slammed his head down and secured him. The man stared up at Otoro with horrified eyes.
Otoro stared back. The man closed his eyes. Otoro raised his axe in a single swift motion and brought it down on his neck, chopping cleanly through it with a resounding THUNK! The man’s head flew off and down into a metal basket, his severed neck spurting blood. The Tracluse quickly tossed his body onto a cart while another victim was kicked to her knees and tied down.
Men and women and children. Today’s Lottery was a big one. Sometimes a line formed. The doomed cried as they waited.
They all died by his axe.
The swish and thunk of steel sounded out in an unsteady rhythm through the day. He worked without taking a break, ceaseless, relentless.
Those Lottery not singled out for decapitation were herded into a single-file line and whipped and prodded towards the Audience Chamber.
The day passed without comment, the gloom-muted daylight shifting slowly. The cries of the thousands, as they had for many years now, faded into nothingness, unheeded. At the whistle the foreman-sergeant approached, as he always did.
“Three hundred eight, Queril. You outpaced number two four-to-one. Tomorrow you’ll watch over the prince. We ain’t expectin’ another Lottery boat in for two days. Go get cleaned up.”
Otoro Queril gave the sergeant a quick salute, grabbed his axe, and marched back to the barracks.