1.6.23 — Cruel:Fate
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Beyond the gate was a vast mustering yard, one side lined with stables, the other side a multi-story barracks. Beyond those buildings, I could see a perfectly manicured orchard not unlike the temple's orchard. The trees stretched off into the distance, and filled the gap behind the outer and inner walls. I was carried right up to the gate of the inner wall, then lowered to the ground. This time, I could not rise without assistance and allowed Eston to help me.

"My Lady, I will not be allowed to enter with you, but will remain here until you are ready to leave."

"Thank you Eston."

A palace functionary approached and checked my name off his lead tablet with a tap of his scribe punch, then gestured, "This way." Around me, the temple knights began to assemble and draw away from the gate, only Eston remained as he watched me enter, just as before. I could feel his nervousness disappear behind me.

The palace was effectively a city in and of itself, though it functioned quite differently to rest of the city. Streets crossed in perfect even rows with buildings and parks checkered throughout. The purposes of each building was unknown, without any marking to differentiate one from another, but the functionaries that moved from here to there all wore different sashes to indicate their duties. The man who guided me, for instance, wore an amber sash with a couple of intricately crafted pins.

I could barely keep up with him and it left me too breathless to ask questions. He on the other hand didn't spare me a word or thought as he lead me through the streets. At last we halted before a large marble structure topped in a vast dome. There were a number of steps yet to climb, but not so many as to break my will. I climbed them with both hands clutching the hand rail for support.

Only then did my guide seem to notice my struggle. He offered me his arm at last, but I ignored it, I did not want to know what desires would spring from his mind, not now. My nerves were already a wreck and needed no further push. He flashed a look of apology, then shrugged as he lead me inside, out of the sun.

The shade was welcome, and though the muffling quiet in my mind was comforting, the noise that came from within the building made my ears ache. I was lead up another flight of stairs, blessedly short, then out into a wide chamber with numerous well defined placements. Each lord had their own seating area, with room for retainers and a desk for pertinent documents. By the shine of wear at each seat, I knew this place saw a lot of use.

I was lead to a smaller section with only a single seat and small desk and left alone. On that desk was a sheaf of papers with my name upon it. Many eyes fell upon me as I sat, some curious, some hostile, some amused, though their emotions were closed off and thoughts hidden by the enforced isolation of the palace. I was thankful for it. Their gazes were hard enough to endure. I looked down at the desk again and picked up the sheaf.

The papers detailed evidences and testimonies. Most of it, I was completely unaware of, some of it I was far too intimate with. When I got to my own testimony, as relayed by Prince Walle, I read only the first paragraph before skipping ahead. Julie came next.

"I was cleaning up after dinner when I heard a quiet call from the stairs. When I rounded the corner I found myself incapable of understanding what I saw. I recognized Lady Ane immediately, though she had lost nearly half her body weight and barely had the strength to stand. The determination to live that filled her eyes, however, that spurred me to action. The strength of will it took cannot be overstated, with her daughter in arm, and a mortal wound so great that any knight would have fallen! She was like a goddess descending from above."

I stopped reading. It wasn't that it was too painful to remember, though it was. The fact of the matter was, I couldn't take the praise. Her words could not be reconciled with how I saw myself. I knew from living along side her, she felt a sense of awe, practically worship, but we didn't speak of it. Reading her viewpoint here was strangely harder than feeling her day to day emotions.

I flipped the page, then another. Her testimony continued longer than most. Did everyone else have a copy of this? They must. Everyone in this room had read her words, and mine for that matter. I had spoken so bluntly of my experience, had the prince toned it down? I tried to read that section… no, no he hadn't. The only omission I found, was that he did not speak of my sixth star, nor the unknown abilities.

My attention was pulled away from the documents as a drum was struck. The beat was slow, uncomfortably slow, each strike echoed and faded before the next. The crowd quieted as officiates took their seats at the center of the room. The judiciary council I assumed. Words were spoken, a reading of charges and rights. A question was posed, "Of those gathered I request a vote, shall the hearing proceed on this day?" A ripple of movement filled the chamber, each lord of state held aloft a rod with various brightly colored jewels at one end, held upward, and black stone at the other, turned down. "The hearing shall proceed without count due to majority." The rods were lowered and silence stretched.

The drum began again, same tempo. A man was carried out in chains then dropped on to the floor in the center of the chamber. The guards who carried him stepped away and left him. He didn't move, didn't raise his head, didn't even seem to know where he was. It took me a four whole beats before I recognized him. The speaker began, "Grand Magi Fostas of the Tower's first circle. You have illegally taken the lives of numerous citizens as detailed in our findings. Considering your lofty standing in the Tower and position in the empire, you are held to a higher standard and trust. You have broken that trust and defiled your standing. If you have any capacity to reason remaining we will give you this moment to speak."

Silence stretched. Ten beats of the drum later the speaker nodded his head and turned to the council. "Please cast your judgment."

Just as the lords had, each member of the council raised a rod in silence, black stone up. I could guess that meant they deemed him guilty. The speaker nodded his head then turned about, "Judgment has been decided. My Lords, do any of you contest?" No rods were raised, no voice spoke, only another three beats of the drum. The speaker looked upon the man and spoke once more, "Grand Magi Fostas, you have been sentenced to death."

Deep within my mind I felt a stirring. The imprint within me seemed aware, though it had no apparent will. Another three beats passed as the speaker raised his hand toward the slumped figure. Light bloomed from the ceiling down, brilliant blue-green, so bright I had to shut my eyes and still I could see the glare through my closed lids. Fostas made his first sound, a single choked cry, then it faded into a sound like a flag in high wind. The light faded and all that remained was a hot glowing spot with a soot ring surrounding it. My face felt tender where the light had touched and I pressed a bit of biokinesis in to sooth the ache. The glowing spot was chilled a moment later with a wave of cryokinesis. The scent reached a moment later, sun baked stone and char, I shuddered in horror.

The Drum continued as others were brought in, eleven in all. Chained together as one, they were not so unaware as Fostas, though they did not speak. They stood at the center of the chamber under the gaze of the assembled lords, and trembled. I didn't know any of them, though they must have known me. "Each and every one of you has broken faith with the empire. The least of you stood by as vile crimes were committed by the Grand Magi and did nothing. The worst of you actively aided and encouraged him. Each of you will be given a chance to speak in your own defense."

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