Chapter Thirty-One

the-norsemen

Chapter Thirty-One – Battle for Dranaa and Reunion

“Sir, general sir! There’s something out here with us,” Michael said, checking the calibration of the sensors relaying their information to his tactical screen.

Eugene came over to see for himself. “Whadda you got son?” he asked, leaning over Michael’s shoulder.

“There, sir, see that!” Michael nervously pointed to a disturbance on the edge of the screen. “It’s big, sir—really big! Some kind of spatial anomaly, I reckon.” Michael was clearly worried and puzzled by what he saw.

“Just keep an eye on it. Let me know if it gets any closer, ok son?” Eugene patted Michael’s shoulder reassuringly. He was as nervous as young Michael. He’d seen at first-hand what the ‘anomaly’ could do and there was no way in hell he was going to do anything to antagonize it. So long as it left him alone, he was happy. Michael continued watching their ‘shadow’ as the fleet headed towards the empire.

~~~

On board Kalki, Hesket fed information into the minds of Akhen and his brothers in readiness for their next task. On worlds and ships across both the Alliance of Planets and the Drana Empire, my kin were still hard at work attempting to influence both sides to destroy each other despite the new threat, in a determined effort to become the new force in the cosmos. Nagesh and his court were fed disinformation about the strength and disposition of the combined armada by Korpak, sent by Hesket to poison Nagesh’s mind and to convince him that Eugene was even now plotting to kill him, and to take over the Drana Empire for himself.

~~~

“Where is Maas now?” Nagesh demanded.

Korpak stared back at Nagesh through his large unblinking black eyes. “Great lord, even now his fleet is only days away on its journey here to destroy Dranaa and the empire.”

“What of my fleet! Why have they not destroyed the rebels?”

“Dranaa, they cannot. They were themselves destroyed by general Maas while engaged in an attack on one of the planets in the Tratass system!” Korpak hissed, his grey face expressionless. Turning to the most senior Drana officer present, Nagesh screamed, “General Omar, the defence of the empire is now in your hands. See to it!” Korpak quietly left the garden and disappeared.

~~~

The disinformation Korpak imparted about the destruction of the Drana fleet was based on truth. In preparation for the defeat of the empire, Eugene turned the Armag array against the Drana fleet, ridding the cosmos of half the armada under his command, reducing the empire’s few remaining ships surrounding Dranaa into an ineffectual defence force. Hesket watched with deep satisfaction from the safety of Kalki, content that his plans to take over were going well. At the heart of the Alliance dozens of my ‘terrified’ cousins begged for sanctuary, willingly revealing under routine questioning, alarming news concerning the dramatic build-up of hundreds of thousands of Drana commando death squads, and the six massive new invasion fleets that carried them. They lay in readiness, waiting for the order for an all out attack on the Alliance’s two strongest centres, Cydon and Earth, spreading panic throughout the many governments of the Alliance of Planets.

Eugene’s armada arrived at the outer edge of the empire above Jalnuur. The mine once more lay in ruins after his marines went about their deadly business, leaving no one alive before returning to the armada. In the confusion, my kin, Pashtek, hid on board one of Eugene’s ships. The next target was the outlying Drana base on Nazuur, which was quickly overrun and captured, with a small force of Eugene’s elite marines left in charge.

~~~

The armada drove on steadily, blasting its way across the empire. Michael called out to Eugene. “Sir, general sir, the anomaly is changing course!” Eugene watched the massive shadow veer away from where it had previously stationed itself and head towards Janus Omega. He felt a wave of relief; at last the goddamn thing is leaving – good riddance! Now he could concentrate on Dranaa less than a day away on their present heading.

Kalki assumed stationary orbit above Janus Omega undetected, hidden by its cloaking system. Akhen and his brothers retired for the night. Hesket invaded their subconscious while they slept. When they awoke the next day, his ‘army’ would do his bidding, fed with pertinent scraps of information. Inside a darkened compartment deep inside the ship, Hesket idly played with a tiny metal vial, turning it over and occasionally shaking it, then chuckling to himself, he closed his eyes and slept.

~~~

The first light of dawn slowly spread across the sleeping city of Pranash. Hasaan was already receiving reports of clashes on the home world of Dranaa between Eugene’s marines and the Drana commandos. General Omar’s severely reduced armed forces were rapidly losing ground against the fanatical human marines across the planet. Within hours, the bloody battle for Dranaa was over. Omar had been routed by overwhelming forces. The empire’s defences were crumbling fast. Soon Eugene’s armada would arrive. The only barrier standing between him and Janus Omega were the three small planetary systems of Andras, Shaktar, and Bhaktur three hundred and twenty thousand kilometres away.

~~~

Nagesh trembled in fear as Hasaan relayed the news to his emperor. What was he to do, where could he go? Ordering Hasaan to continue gathering information, Nagesh disappeared into the house. “Vishna, what am I going to do; there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from Maas!” he pleaded. Vishna held him in his arms as he had when he was a small boy.

Gently stroking Nagesh’s luxuriant braided hair, the old man’s waxed moustache twitched while his facial expressions changed as he thought over the problem. “There is only one way out for you Naga,” he said finally, as he tenderly wiped the tears flowing from his former lover’s eyes. “You must find a ship and flee to the Alliance of Planets and surrender to them.”

Nagesh pushed away from Vishna. “Are you mad? The Alliance would crucify me. They would never give me sanctuary. Anyway, my royal barge is the only vessel still capable of the distance, and it’s unarmed. It would be picked up by Maas’ sensors and I would be hunted down and killed!”

The old man shrugged his shoulders. “You asked for my advice, Naga, and I gave it. I can do no more for you, I’m sorry…’ Vishna slumped back in his chair in the early morning sun and dozed off.

~~~

In the panic and confusion of the imminent attack, no one on the streets of Pranash noticed the hooded barefoot priests make their way steadily through the tree lined streets of the suburbs, towards the walled gardens of the old admiral’s home. Forcing the small door to the inner garden the priests entered and closed the door behind them. Akhen and his brothers threw off the rough priests’ garb and drew their swords. He signalled to begin searching the house and garden, while he and Manesh sat by the central fountain of the garden. The warm sunlight bounced off the burnished metal of their weapons onto the garden walls, where it danced as the two berserkers flexed their grip on their sword hilts. Khan and Shansur returned with Seti and Apis. “Nusaan, Besal, and Akkad are rechecking the upper floors,” Khan said, wiping blood from his sword blade.

“Where’s Max?” Akhen asked.

“He’s bringing the prize,” Apis laughed.

Max appeared with the limp body of Nagesh draped across his powerful shoulders and dumped the Drana emperor in a heap on the lawn at Manesh’s feet. “Is this what you’re looking for, brother?” he smiled. They gathered around the unconscious body as the sun rose higher into the sky. A circle of razor sharp swords pointed at Nagesh.

When he regained consciousness half an hour later, the throbbing pain in his head from the hilt of Max’s sword still blurred his vision. Minute jagged sparks of multi-coloured light flashed and floated across his dark eyes as he tried to refocus. Gradually his vision cleared in the sunlight and for a brief moment, he thought he lay surrounded by tall trees. Then one of the trees kicked his head. “Get up; get to your feet!” Strong hands dragged him from the ground, then he felt a vicious kick in the back of his legs and he dropped painfully to his knees. “Hello brother. Or should that be sister by the way you look?” the voice quietly asked.

Nagesh shook his head trying to clear his vision but the throbbing pain persisted. He put his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun’s rays, but it was roughly knocked aside. He felt a sharp pain in his back drive him forward, falling face down on the marble path beside the fountain. Blood now ran from his nose adding to his discomfort. Through the blinding haze of sparks, his eyes slowly began to clear. The trees took on a new shape as they gradually came into sharp focus. They were the powerful legs of warriors. Strong hands once again lifted him up, bringing his eyes to the same level as the warrior directly in front of him. “I said hello, brother. Don’t you recognize me? Have I changed so much since we were small children playing in the gardens of the royal palace on Banek, while our mother worked in the kitchens? Surely not, brother, surely not! Remember when our mother used to sneak small morsels of food from the Dranaa’s banquet out to us, and we used to hide behind her as we ate them – remember? Well do you? You’ve done well for yourself, brother, considering your humble beginnings. I wonder how many of your court know that their precious Dranaa is the bastard offspring of a slave. And that you’re only a half-breed, not Drana royalty at all, but the youngest illegitimate son of an Arnasian woman torn from her mother as a toddler. Destined to spend the rest of her pitiful life as a kitchen hand and whore in the Dranaa’s summer palace here on Janus Omega!”

Nagesh felt tiny drops of spittle shower his face and slowly slide down to his chin, burning from the salt saliva when the berserker spat into his eyes. Sudden recognition entered Nagesh’s bewildered mind. “Manesh?”

“So you do remember, brother. Do you remember when our dear mother died? Do you remember how she died?” Manesh’s voice turned to steel as he asked the question. Nagesh heard the sound of water hitting the marble pathway, but it was not the fountain overflowing. The white silk of his figure hugging robe turned yellow in the sunlight. “Ah, I see you do remember,” Manesh chuckled, grimly. “Please tell my brothers how our mother died, I pray you.” Manesh’s bitter voice cut into Nagesh like a surgeon’s knife. He released his grip and Nagesh fell painfully to the marble path where he lay in his own filth, gathering his legs up in his arms in a foetal position, sobbing uncontrollably. “Bring me the other one!” Manesh barked. Apis and Shansur dragged the old man out into the garden and pushed him to the floor beside Nagesh. “Greetings father,” Manesh said, staring coldly at the pathetic old man.

“Who are you?” Vishna’s voice trembled, as he spoke.

“You surely remember your oldest son,” Manesh said, as he crouched in front of the near blind old man. roughly seizing Vishna’s moustache, he hauled him painfully to his feet and pulled his face close. Vishna’s old eyes streamed with tears from the pain as he struggled to focus on the face before him. The warrior was a stranger to him and yet the eyes were somehow familiar. “My brother recognized me, father, why don’t you?” Manesh venomously whispered into Vishna’s ear. The slow realization made Vishna shake uncontrollably with fear. Manesh released his grip and Vishna joined Nagesh on the pathway. “Since both my brother and my father are reluctant to tell the story of our family my dear brothers, I shall have to enlighten you myself,” Manesh said, calmly. He stood for a moment remembering the days of his early childhood in silence. Then he sat beside the fountain and began. “My mother was the youngest child of a street trader on the second planet in the Arnasian system – Losha. When she was five, the Drana commandos raided her village, killing most of the adults and stealing the children. She was taken to the slave markets on Dranaa where she was bought by a young officer in Nazir’s fleet – my dear father here. “By the time she was twelve, Vishna had taken her to his bed. When he tired of her, she was sent to work in the summer palace here on Janus Omega. Unbeknown to him, my mother was pregnant and a few months later, I was born. Soon after my birth, another Drana raped my mother. This time he was not an officer, but merely a lowly trooper, one of the thousands who were quartered here, when Nazir was in residence. Mother fell pregnant again at the age of fourteen and duly gave birth to my half-brother Nagesh. “When I was six, I was taken away from my mother and brother and sent to the harsh military school on Dreyga, on the orders of Vishna never to see either of them ever again. Vishna took Nagesh under his wing and brought him up with fictitious stories about being descended from Hanseer, grooming him for his own political ends. When Nagesh reached his teenage years he firmly believed that he was the direct descendant of Hanseer, the most famous and honoured Drana warrior, who lost his life over eight hundred years ago when he led the final assault against the Human-Nephile’s on Earth. While Vishna saw to it that I was sent to the worst battles in an effort to kill me, never quite able to order my death himself, my brother Nagesh was pampered and schooled in the art of politics by Vishna. When he was old enough, Vishna sent him to the elite officers’ academy on Dreyga where his political education quickly accelerated his advancement. I have to admit that in the beginning, Nagesh did distinguish himself in battle before his perverted sexual need for small boys consumed him. Reports of his conquests in Nazir’s name spread across the empire. When he led the revolt against Nazir on Dranaa, I was there to witness his triumph. I tried to get a message to him telling him that I was alive, but Vishna intercepted it and I was once again sent to the farthest corner of the empire. Vishna proclaimed Nagesh the new Dranaa and then had our mother garrotted and buried outside the city limits of Pranash in the poisonous soil of the garbage dumps, to hide Nagesh’s humble beginnings from Drana society.”

Akhen put his arm around Manesh and hugged him while the rest of the berserkers stood silent. “How do you know all this, Manesh; you’ve never mentioned it before?” Apis said.

“I didn’t know until a few nights ago,” Manesh replied quietly.

“Clear thoughts and memories came flooding into my mind. Someone or something triggered them.” Manesh broke down with tears of anger flowing down his face as his body trembled from the release of pent up emotions deep inside him. Vishna and Nagesh shook with fear as they lay huddled together surrounded by the berserkers. Manesh wiped the tears from his eyes and slowly stood up. He turned to look at Vishna and Nagesh, his eyes now cold and unfeeling. “Time to put things right,” he quietly stated, as he picked up his sword. The double-edged sword blade sliced through the air sending a red haze of blood across the path, before Vishna’s head rolled and stopped beside the fountain’s ornate base. Nagesh screamed as the lifeless body twitched beside him. Manesh sheathed his sword. “Get up brother,” he said, calmly and quietly, dragging Nagesh to his feet by his throat. He smiled and looked deep into Nagesh’s eyes as he squeezed the life from him, crushing his larynx, and snapping his neck, before dropping his lifeless body to the ground. Hesket witnessed the end of Nagesh with evil pleasure from the shadows and smiled…

~~~

Next time – Chapter Thirty-Two

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