“Draven, sir? Should we bring the prisoner out?”
I didn’t bother to look at the man. He was a wheedler in a “fashionable” metal-plated vest that held his position because of his deference rather than any real skills. I needed to hire more capable assistants. Call it a present to myself.
The morning of the execution had been pushed back three days. I’d given no explanation, because the crowd hadn’t deserved one. I chose to wait, and that had to be good enough. Summer was fading into autumn, and crime was on the decline. My execution was the only one scheduled for the week. They would be patient.
I brushed my hair to one side and looked up at the dawn sky. I’d chosen the western-most courtyard of Noxus, and the first rays of the sun caught the monolithic steel walls of the city above us. The shade in the courtyard was cool. A breeze caught my ponytail and set it fluttering.
“Do it. I’ll give them a show,” I said. It was as much to myself as to him. The echoes of my voice bounced off the cobblestones of the courtyard, ricocheted from the sharp facades of the homes around us, and returned to me. I smiled.
My aide took that to mean yes, and bustled off.
The wooden platform was beginning to attract attention. It was the same crowd as the day before, and the one before that, and the one before that. Men, women, and children gathered to see Noxian justice drip from the headsman’s axe.
I stood on the raised platform and looked at the pinnacle of Noxus, the Palace at the peak of the mountain. I wondered if my brother was there, meeting with his pet general. If he was, he had a prime position to watch the spectacle. Though, he’d need binoculars. There was no sense to making it easy on him. If the celebrated Hand of Noxus wanted to support his younger brother, he’d have to do so publicly.
The crowd was talking among themselves. They sounded excited. Fitting. I hadn’t made an appearance the three days prior. They would be eager to meet their newest executioner.
“You actually gonna do it this time?”
The shout had come from the back of the crowd. I didn’t bother to look, I wouldn’t find the woman. If I *did* find her, I would have killed her, and that would ruin the show.
The shadows cast by the spires of Noxus had shortened by a foot when my aide returned to the side of the gallows. I knelt at the edge to hear him over the crowd.
“Joras Fleetheart is on his way, sir,” he said.
I clapped him on the shoulder. My leather gloves squeaked as I shook him and laughed. “The world is ready.”
Six soldiers marched into the courtyard in a rough hexagon with the prisoner in the center. The armies of Noxus had adopted General Swain’s colors of green and gold when he took control. Polished steel spikes stuck out of their pauldrons and greaves, and the one in front had decorated her vambraces with teeth. Beyond that, they were utterly identical. Utterly plain. I stopped them at the stairs to the platform.
“Only me and the prisoner on the platform, lady,” I said. She bristled and was about to argue when one of her underlings nudged her.
“Captain, that’s Lord Darius’ brother.”
A flash of irritation marred my perfect features before I smoothed it out. I spread my hands, inviting her to make her complaint. The fight had left her, though. Brother, your reputation precedes me.
The escort relinquished the prisoner into my care. He was taller than me by three inches. His lips were pierced through with steel rings, and he was missing the top half of his left ear. His legs had the hard, knotty muscles of a runner. When he smiled at me, I could see he lacked three of his front teeth.
I guided him to the center of the platform. He seemed puzzled that there was no chopping block. This was a man that had watched many executions. I felt he was uniquely suited to appreciate my art.
“Joras Fleetheart,” I said. I addressed the crowd as he looked around. I had rehearsed this speech many times in front of my mirror, picturing the reaction to each word. “ You have been sentenced to death by the axe for crimes against the Empire of Noxus. I offer an alternative.”
The crowd began to shout. What I was doing was illegal, by some views. Others were more intelligent, and held their tongue to see what sport I would provide.
Joras sneered at me. “Yeah? An’ what maketh you think I’m gon’ do thomething for you?” His tongue poked through the gap in his teeth as he talked, spraying me with spittle. I wiped my face clean. I hated this man.
I continued with the speech: “You were known for fleeing the scene of a crime before the bodies touched ground. If you can escape me, you win back your life.”
Now the crowd roared. I didn’t have the authority to make any such promises. It didn’t matter whether I did or not, but small minds see only what’s put in front of them. I had thought bigger.
“Runnin’ from you? You can’t even hop with all them damn furth.” Joras opened his mouth wide and laughed in my face. He played his part well. I still hated him.
“Thure, I’ll take that bet.”
I stepped to the front of the stage. My aide handed me my axe. “Then start running.”
Joras was off the platform before I turned around. He was headed west, toward the outer walls of Noxus. I watched his retreating back with a growing smile.
The crowd parted around Joras as he ran. They may have thought I was breaking the law, but I was still the brother of Darius. They wouldn’t stand between me and what I wanted until I had failed.
Joras was as fast as his crimes had reported. His powerful legs flexed with each step. He pushed aside anyone that stood between him and his goal. I admired that in him.
The breeze picked up. I looked at the retreating shadows. They only covered the back half of the platform now, where I was standing.
It was my time.
The breeze caught my hair. I took two steps forward into the light of the morning sun. My jewelry caught the light—I was surrounded in a halo of gold and silver. I threw my axe. It sailed through the air, passing through spaces of light and shadow thrown by the Noxian spires. The crowd’s attention, which had been on the retreating Joras, was pulled to the glittering weapon sailing through the air. Its arc was perfect, its revolution slow, and it buried its blade in Joras’ spine with an exquisite *crunch.*
The silence of the crowd was palpable as they stared at the corpse. They turned as one back to me.
I raised my arms. “I am Draven! Say my name!”