The Last Trial

by Michael Bard

December, 707 CR

Yvarra stood in the good sized chamber. In the middle, alone. She was dressed in simple robes, her fedora was in her hands against her chest. The Sword of Songs had been left in her rooms. A tiny stub, shattered, torn, still remained, coming out of her forehead. Other than that, good food, bed rest, time, all had healed the wounds to her body. And maybe to her soul.

Except for the memories.

The chamber was crowded, filled to capacity and possibly beyond. The goat who'd chased her in Euper was there. The tiger that'd saved her, that'd saved the keep, if not the world, was there. The scarred fox was there. And so many others.

Before her were two thrones, a larger one and a smaller, both had crimson cushions and looked to be made for humans. Behind her were the three rows of full benches, and the aisle between them she'd been escorted down. A deep red cloth covered the floor, and ancient hangings poured down from rafters as sunlight shimmered in through glass windows.

The two guards, a human and an otter, turned and left her as an old man called out. "All stand for his excellency Duke Thomas of the House of Hassan, fifth of his line, Duke of Metamor and Euper, King of the Northern Midlands. Hail! Hail!"

The last two words were echoed by the crowd, and Yvarra curtseyed as low as she could as Duke Thomas entered the room. He was a horse, a rich chestnut, dressed in simpler robes than she'd expected. He walked with a stately dignity, his hooves thudding on the rich carpet. As the crowd was silent, he made his way to the larger of the two thrones, and carefully lowered himself into it. From experience, Yvarra could tell that he'd pulled his tail painfully up so that he could sit in a seat made for the human form.

"Be seated; the accused will stand as the charges are read," boomed out the same old man.

With grace, Yvarra stood up from her crouched position, and looked at the Duke, at the judge of her fate, with steady eyes. His voice was steady, old and tired. "Court is now in session. The accused, known as Yvarra, once known as Sarpadon, employed as an obtainer of rare antiquities, you are before this court on charges of murder to the minimum count of twenty. Of the killing of citizens that have the Duke's sworn protection. How do you plead?"

Yvarra swallowed. Glad that cud did not chose to come up. Her voice, proud and steady, she called out her choice: "Guilty."

The crowd mumbled and the duke's ears lowered. He sighed. The crowd leaned forward.

The old man slammed the base of his staff thrice — *boom* *boom* *boom* and then called out, "Jim Dobie, head of Euper Investigations, rise and read the charges and accusations, and describe the proof against the accused."

Yvarra watched the goat that had chased her across the rooftops stand and clear his throat. He shuffled some papers and looked down at them. "If it pleases the court, between September and October 707 CR inclusive, forty-eight cases of murder were discovered and investigated within the walls of Euper. There were additional, but the ones in question all consisted of entire families whose homes were entered by illegal means. All family members were then slain by daggers slashed across the neck."

Yvarra blinked. She'd only killed twenty four in bed!

"Euper Investigations requested a mage which arrived and did a magical reading of a dagger that was found at one of the murder—"

"I protest those numbers!" Yvarra burst out. "I know how man—"

"The accused will be silent!" roared out the old man.

"I will not plead guilty to killing people I didn't kill!"

"You will be silent—!"

The Duke entered the discussion. "You may respond to the numbers once Jim Dobie has finished his statement You will be silent until then though."

The Duke's voice hadn't been raised, but Yvarra knew she'd pushed it as far as she was going to be allowed. Her tail whipping back and forth, she nodded.

"You may continue, without further interruption," state the Duke.

Jim swallowed and shuffled on his hooves. "To continue. The mage's readings confirmed that the dagger had been used in violent acts. As it was found at one of the scenes, and was positioned in a way consistent with being used as a weapon. The dagger had been enchanted and was destroyed before conclusive evidence could be gathered. The magical investigation suggested that the dagger had been manufactured by one Oberon, currently a member of the Longs. When questioned, he confirmed he'd made the dagger, and that he had sold it to a female anthro unicorn. Investigations of travellers between Euper and Metamor, along with events within both locales, indicated that a unicorn matching the accused had appeared in Euper about three weeks before the first of the murders. She visited the library in Metamor. During the Fall Festival she purchased three daggers, including the murder weapon, from the same Oberon. When located she fled, resisting arrest by diving into the Euper harbour. There were no more murders, and there were no further sightings of the unicorn until Oberon returned to Metamor carrying her in his arms."

"Is that all, Jim?" the Duke asked.

"Your highness— I don't know a lot of what is going on here. I admit that the evidence is circumstantial that this individual committed the murders, but she is the only one we have any magical or other evidence against. And, the murders did start after she arrived, and ended when she vanished. During the pursuit she told me something about a cult." He cleared his throat and stood higher. "Your highness, murder is murder. Whether she killed those plotting evil, or slaughtered innocents, it does not change the fact she murdered citizens of Metamor, and for that she must face due process.

"That is all."

"Thank you Jim, you may be seated." The goat bowed, and returned to his seat. "The accused may not speak."

About time! "I wish to clarify my plea."

"Continue—"

"I have never murdered anybody before I came to Metamor. Since I've arrived, I've killed thirty-eight people."

The crowd muttered at the number.

"A sad statement if ever I had to make one, but I perceived no other choice. Of those thirty eight, thirty seven were members of the doomsday cult. Of those thirty seven, only twenty-four were killed in their beds. If I am accused of more than twenty-four slain in that matter, I emphatically plead my innocence as to the additional."

Lowering her head and closing her eyes, Yvarra sighed. "I know the stain on my soul that I will carry to my grave. I will not deny it. But I will not be blamed for acts I did not do!"

Silence filled the chamber until the Duke ended it. "Is that all you wish to say?"

"At this time."

The Duke nodded towards the old man. "You may continue."

The old man slammed the base of a staff on the floor with a dull boom and roared out: "Are there any who would speak on the behalf of the accused?"

For a moment there was silence. Then the massive tiger boomed out. "I wish to speak."

"Let the speaker step forward," boomed out the old man. "Speak naught but truth before the eyes of the Duke."

The tiger stepped forward and Yvarra remembered. Remembered meeting him in the keep. Remembered meeting him at the fair. And remembered him rushing inexplicably to her rescue before the swirling gate and, even as she'd begged, he'd hacked off her alicorn. Her hand reached up to touch the jagged edge as her body shivered.

Or so she'd been told.

"Who wishes to speak?"

"I, Adon Naharel Sahana'Haudorn, also known as Oberon of the Longs."

"You may speak Adon Naharel Sahana'Haudorn, also known as Oberon, of the Longs."

"I met her in the keep before she went on her course. I met her again during the Fall Festival. She looked nervous then, almost hunted. Now I think it was the cult that was hunting her. Somebody was knocked out nearby, by a dart I think. Likely it was meant for her."

He bowed his head. "I admit, that at first I suspected her of being without honour. I had heard of the murders, and then Jim, Head of Euper Investigations, brought me a piece of evidence. A dagger I had made, and that I had sold the accused. I heard what she was accused of, the murder of innocents, the murder of children, and— and I prejudged her."

Yvarra shivered at the hatred in his voice when he'd said murderer of children. She remembered something that the rabbit had said — about setting her up with the watch with one of the daggers. That must be the one he meant. Still— "The children, if they were—"

"The accused will remain silent!" boomed out the old man.

Yvarra did.

"Adon Naharel Sahana'Haudorn, also known as Oberon, will continue."

Yvarra sighed, and lowered her muzzle. It was so light now, and she ached at the loss of the weight of her alicorn. She'd murdered, she did not deny it, even to herself. But they needed to hear the truth!

"I needed to kill her myself, to attone for the guilt she had put on my personal honour for the killings she conducted with the weapons I had sold her. But, nobody could find her. With urging from Misha I spoke to Fox Cutter, the librarian of the Longs, and he told me some information about a cult. And— and when I returned to my forge Kyia had put a door there that hadn't been there. Arming myself, I took the door and followed a passage down into the bowls beneath the keep. It led me to a massive chamber where there were six people chanting before a swirling portal.

"Whatever was behind that gate was— evil. Utterly and completely evil. There is no other way to describe it. I watched as the accused burst from the cage they had sealed her in and killed what seemed to be the cult leader. The others turned on her, as whatever was trying to come through the gate was urging everybody to kill her. I burst amongst them, and slew the rest as they fought.

"The accused fled, or at first I thought, but instead she ran to the portal. When the rest of the cultists were dead, she was standing there, her alicorn piercing the veil, and her body slowly being pulled in. Even though she told me, begged me, to leave, to not risk saving her, that the gate had to be sealed, I cut off her horn because she was not deserving of such a fate. Such would not be justice. The portal twisted into tortured rock and she screamed, and collapsed.

"I picked her up and carried her back to the keep. I came out in rooms I had never seen before, but there was a bed and I put her upon it. Then I summoned healers, and guards."

Yvarra watched the Duke looking at the tiger, measuring him.

"Your highness, I do not believe the accused is evil. There was a cult, and the cult was trying to bring something into this world that would have destroyed all of us. She stopped it, and in doing so I believe that she saved every one of us. From what Fox Cutter told me, the thing she stopped was a Titan. Only her actions kept it from being let out.

"She did what she had to do to save us all. Should she be punished for that?"

The Duke scratched his chin. "Oberon, how did you know that removing her alicorn," the word rolled oddly off his tongue as though he was unfamiliar with it, "would seal the gate but let her live? Did you consider that closing the gate required her body as well as her horn?"

"Your highness, I— I do not know. All I can say is that I knew that her death would be wrong. Knew it with absolute certainty. How— I do not know."

The Duke nodded. "At least you were right. You're sure the gate is sealed?"

"As sure as anybody can be. When I arrived, it was swirling as though alive, glowing with unholy light, pulsing with energy. When I left it was rock, dark, cold."

"Could you lead anybody there, so we could guard it?"

"With apologies, no. After I brought her back, the door vanished and nobody has seen it. The Longs have looked. All I can think is that Kyia will take care of it herself. Though, one wonders why she did not take care of the summoning herself."

"Is that all you wish to say, Oberon?"

"That is my account, and I swear to its accuracy."

"Thank you. You may be seated."

The old man boomed out: "Adon Naharel Sahana'Haudorn, also known as Oberon, your evidence has been heard. The Duke thanks you for your aid in this matter, and bids you be seated."

The tiger looked at Yvarra, measuring, weighing. Nodding, he returned to his seat.

The Duke turned to regard the unicorn. "Yvarra, you had something to say. Do you wish to say it now? Do you wish to change your plea?"

"No. My plea stands. I killed the cultists. Thirty-seven of them. Twenty-four in their beds. No more. The only one I do not bitterly regret is the cult leader. However, I do object to the accusation that I killed either children or innocents."

"Continue."

"I was sent here originally to find the Sword of Songs. It's in the room I was using. One power that the Sword of Songs had was to detect cultists. Other than a dyer in Euper who attacked me to take my alicorn — and I do not include him in the list of the cultists as I consider that self defense — all of them were confirmed as a cultist by the sword. Except for the rabbit cult leader, but after weeks of being whipped and tortured at his hand, and his actions, and watching him lead the summoning, I think his case was fairly obvious."

"How did this sword reveal the existence of these cultists?"

"By sound, usually be playing one or more song patterns. It's name is more descriptive than one might think. And, I'm guessing that most of this, charade," she motioned at the crowd and the chamber, "are for those I killed in their sleep. Each of those I made absolutely sure were cultists before ending their lives. And, as to the children, given the curse, how can anybody be sure who is an adult, and who not?"

"Is that all?"

Yvarra sighed. "That's all."

The old man slammed the base of his staff on the floor with a dull boom and roared out: "Are there any who would speak on the behalf of the accused?"

For a moment there was silence. Then an old fox in some kind of ‘taur form spoke out. "I wish to clarify a point."

"Let the speaker step forward," boomed out the old man. "Speak naught but truth before the eyes of the Duke."

"Who wishes to speak?"

"I, Fox Cutter."

"You may speak Fox Cutter."

The foxtaur walked forward and bowed to the Duke who waved it off. "Your highness, I confirm that the elves who were here before us believed that a Titan was imprisoned beneath this keep. The accused showed Mael-Murie a symbol known to be used by a cult dedicated to releasing things better left sealed away. I would have suggested action, but she dismissed it and I found out almost too late. The cult was real, the Titan was real. I thank all the divinities that the summoning was halted. Given what Oberon described, I have no doubt we all owe our continued existence to this individual.

"That is all."

"Thank you, Fox Cutter," said the Duke.

The old man boomed out: "Fox Cutter, your evidence has—"

"I don't think we need to formalities every time," said the Duke.

"As your Highness wishes."

Yvarra shook her head as the fox sat down. A noble not taking every instant to remind people of his power — who'd have thought?

The old man slammed the base of a staff on the floor with a dull boom and roared out: "Are there any who would speak on the behalf of the accused?"

"I wish to speak," said an old raccoon.

"Oh go ahead, Brian," said the Duke before the old seneschal could speak.

"Oberon fetched me to look at the wounds of the accused. Her body showed the long healed scars of massive abuse. Whippings and various sword wounds. The greatest wound was the alicorn hacked off of her head. The wound seeped blood, and her body was cold to the touch. Her breathing could barely be detected. It was very slow. She had suffered a lot of damage, and a lot of abuse. From the age of the wounds it happened many months ago, before she even existed as I stand the current theory. Given what has been reported of the healing abilities of her alicorn, they could have been very recent. All I could do was keep her warm, prescribe lots of rest. I didn't expect her to live. But then— something happened. Her body suddenly grew warm, and her breathing became much more rapid. The same type of change that occurs when a mage or priest returns to their body from wandering outside it. After that she healed rapidly.

"She was a model patient, at least at first. Always kind, always thankful. I can't see her being a murderess. As I was leaving one night, she had fallen asleep, and I heard a harp playing a lullaby. I couldn't place it at first, but I determined it came from the sword that was hanging on the wall near her bed. Assuming that is the Sword of Songs, it has at least some magical ability.

"That is all, your highness."

"Thank you Brian. Anybody else?" The Duke looked around and the crowd murmured, but nobody else raised there voice. "Well then—"

"I wish to speak!" Yvarra burst out.

The Duke shrugged. "Well, speak then."

"You accuse me of murdering twenty-four people. And yet— how many," she spun around to face the audience, "have each of you killed?" She walked over to face the scarred fox warrior, so arrogant he was even wearing a string of lutin ears. Tropheys. She remembered meeting him when she'd passed into Metamor the first time. "You—Misha I think I heard somebody call you, how many lutins have you killed? Ten? A hundred? A thousand? Do you see me keeping tropheys of those I killed?"

"Lutins are different," Misha responded. "They are irredeemably evil. They are a threat to the safety of this keep, and of the midlands. They have to be killed."

"Do they? Have you ever asked them? Are they all out to kill you at any cost, or are they doing it because they have no choice? Maybe even because you will kill them so they have no option but to try and kill you first!"

"Lutins are different!"

"In what way? Let's just say that they're irredeemably evil, and that every single one of them represent a dire threat to the safety of this portion of the world. How many have you killed?"

"Over a hundred."

"And did you kill them all in fair combat? Or— maybe you snuck into their camps, into their fortresses, and killed them in their sleep. Slit their throats. How many lutins have your murdered?"

"It's war!"

"And how is that different from me? I was sent here to recover an item. I was changed into what I am now by the Curse. I trust you know of it? And, then the cult attacked me. There was no reasoning with them. I either fought back, or I died. How is that any different from you, from any of you, and the lutins? You sneak into their camps, their fortresses, and if you can you kill them in their sleep. You kill them by magic. You kill them by any means that minimizes risk to yourselves because you are smart warriors. You never give the enemy an even chance because the cost of failure is too high.

"And you expect me to do different?

"I didn't know the ultimate cost of my failure at first. Gradually I found out. But, my options were either to let them kill me, to flee, and doom the world, or to fight them by any means I could. Up to and including murder.

"Has anybody, anybody ever tried to raise a lutin child? Teach him or her a different morality? Or are all lutins just evil, deserving nothing more than death?"

There was an embarrassed silence.

"You want to punish me? Fine. I do not deny what I did. I am not proud of it. And I definitely don't parade around with tropheys of what I've done like so many of you. Misha, Oberon, how many others? War is war, and you just fight it, never thinking of another option.

"Oh, I know of Nasoj. Who doesn't? I'm not saying to negotiate with him, but maybe his servants would prefer another out."

Yvarra's voice faded. "Maybe some of the cultists would have preferred to leave what they'd gotten themselves into. But I was alone. I couldn't risk asking because I was one, and they were legion. I wish—

"What is done is done." She turned and stalked back towards the Duke. Guards advanced, but the Duke waved them off. Yvarra stopped well short. "You wish to judge me, that is your right. Eli knows, we mortals need to have somebody try as best they can. But, if you judge me, also judge yourselves, for I've done nothing any of you wouldn't have done in my position, and that most of you have done when given the opportunity to attack the lutins.

"I just wish that I hadn't been so blind, so arrogant, that I refused the help I was offered. So obstinate to refuse aid that I now believe would have been granted me. I was foolish, and that is my sin."

She turned away. "That— that's all I wish to say, your— highness."

The old man slammed the base of his staff on the floor, shattering the silence. *boom* "Are there any who would speak on the behalf of the accused?"

There was silence, and whispering. But nobody else stood forward. The seneschal looked around, nodded, and raised his staff—

The room dimmed, the sunlight glittering through the crystal windows faded, and somehow focused, condensing down into the shimmering yellow form of a beautiful woman, transparent, and yet there. Silence fell from her like water from a dripping leaf, as her robes swept around her and she walked towards the centre of the chamber.

"Kyia—" somebody whispered.

Yvarra was almost as awed as everybody else, but also getting a bit annoyed. She'd had too much of gods and goddesses poking in her life recently. And yet— what could a mortal do?

The seneschal's voice was almost a whisper. "Let the— the— Kyia speak. Say not but truth before— before the— the Duke."

Even though her voice was so quiet as to be almost inaudible, every soul in the room had no trouble hearing her bell-like tones with complete clarity and comprehension. "The child Yvarra tells the truth in all she has said. That she killed, is true. That the threat was as dire as Fox Cutter said, is true. When she came she was arrogant, self serving. She did what she had to do, and she refused the hand I offered. That was her right, and from it came much evil that could have been avoided. And yet, she did only what she was forced to. Though she came at first for the personal profit of fulfilling her contract, at the end she killed only in personal defense, to save others, no longer caring about the costs to herself. Judge her. And judge yourselves."

She was gone, and the light returned to normal.

Yvarra blinked.

The seneschal was the first to regain his wits. *boom* went his staff. "Are there any who would speak on the behalf of the accused?"

The silence was long, and this time complete. And, this time, nobody spoke up.

*boom* *boom* "All who wish to speak on behalf of the accused have spoken and have been heard. The accused— has spoken. The charges have been read and acknowledged by the accused. Now his people await the fair and blessed judgement of his excellency Duke Thomas of the House of Hassan, fifth of his line, Duke of Metamor and Euper, King of the Northern Midlands. Be silent and await! May the wisdom of the divine guide his thoughts." *boom* *boom*.

Yvarra didn't have long to wait as her tail swept back and forth behind her. Her stomachs grumbled, and she wished she'd eaten the breakfast she'd been offered. She'ds choose to not risk cud interrupting at an inopportune moment. She wished the Sword of Songs was here with her. She wished anybody was there for her.

Holding the necklace that still hung around her neck with its blue gem, she clasped the gem tightly in one hand. I did it for you, Ansala. All for—

*boom* *boom* "Duke Thomas of the House of Hassan, fifth of his line, Duke of Metamor and Euper, King of the Northern Midlands, has reached his judgement." *boom* *boom* "All listen to his words in silence."

She swallowed. This was it.

"Yvarra, once known as Sarpadon, you came to our lands on a quest for an item. Through that you became entangled in forces beyond any of our control. We believe that you did what you thought was right, and what you thought you had to do, as do we all."

Yvarra almost collapsed in relief.

"And yet, the fact remains that you did murder twenty-four individuals who had the right to the protection of my honour, and the right to protection under the law."

She clenched her fists. And here she was beginning to think this one was different!

"I have a quandary. What you did saved us all, and yet the way you did it would shame any of us. So, Yvarra, formerly Sarpadon, hear my judgement."

Here it comes.

"For your sins, you shall be imprisoned—"

What?

"— within the environs of the Castle of Metamor. Within said environs you shall move freely and unguarded. None shall let you pass beyond. Here we wish you to think upon what you have done, and why you were forced to do it. And upon what could have been.

"Such imprisonment shall continue as long as you shall live, or until a ruler in the line of Metamor decrees otherwise."

*boom* *boom* "Duke Thomas of the House of Hassan, fifth of his line, Duke of Metamor and Euper, King of the Northern Midlands, has rendered judgement. So let it be written, so let it be done." *boom* *boom*

Epilogue

Yvarra stood on one of the balconies overlooking the gardens. The sky was gray, overcast, and cold, her breath misted with each exhale as white things drifted downward. From what others had said it was snow.

Yvarra had never seen snow before.

Each flake danced before her, drifting with a will of its own, yet remorselessly falling. Each was unique, different, and lived only for a moment before vanishing onto the ground, forming a single whole.

Souls. Each of them. Different, unique, passing to their individual destiny, and then death.

Like her. If she would ever die — Klepnos had not been clear.

Footsteps, booted paws, thudded in the hall behind her but she ignored them. They would speak when they wanted.

The trial had ended a week ago. The quarters that— Kyia had provided were hers now. It was odd — she'd had to run down Pyat to figure out who Kyia was. Not a god, but certainly divine. A creature who lived within the keep, maintained it, guarded it. And moved around its interior architecture as suited her whim, revealing rooms and chambers when needed. Like the door Oberon had told about that led him to the summoning, like the chambers Kyia had offered in friendship and she'd thrown away like the fool she'd been.

Foolish as each of these snowflakes glorying in their short unchanging lives as they plummeted to their deaths. Never changing, doing what they want.

She looked over the snow covered grounds.

And yet, even out of their individuality came a greater beauty.

She'd met people, but didn't really know anybody. But then, that would take time. And, everybody had been so busy preparing for the Duke's wedding, a wedding that was just about to begin. She'd been invited, but had chosen not to go. It wasn't her place.

Maybe someday—

"Enjoying the snow?" It was the voice of Misha, the scarred fox she'd accused. She'd found out he was leader of the Long Scouts, the elite warriors of Metamor.

"And the view. And thinking."

"War is war. We all do what we must."

"And yet— are the lutins evil? Always?"

"I don't know. And I'm going to find out. Maybe they deserve a chance too. You can still come to the wedding you know."

"It's not my place."

"Oh."

"Besides—"

"Besides what?"

"It might not be politic for me to be too near the Duke for a while."

"You mean the trial?"

She let herself snicker. Oh, the things she could have done. But not on this day. Not to this Duke on his day. Later. "No." She turned to face the scarred fox warrior. "You know, I've always considered noble affairs to be so boring and staid and full of themselves."

"Oh?" He patted that axe he was always carrying.

"They need to be livened up. And the nobility need to be reminded that they are nothing more than us lesser who got born lucky."

"Did you do something? If you've—"

"Done?" She made herself look innocent as her tail whipped back and forth happily.

"Out with it."

"Nothing dangerous—"

"Out with it!"

"Hmm—" She scratched the base of her alicorn. It was regrowing, but slowly. It would take years, but then anything worthwhile took time. "A water bladder full of air under the Duke's seat cushion—?"

"What?"

"The wine glasses—?"

"What did you do?"

"And the chandelier—?"

"What did you do?"

She went on and on, implying more and more kinds of possible deviltry as the poor fox grew more and more panicked. Inside she laughed, and she could hear the faint xylophone tinkling of the Sword of Songs as it laughed with her.

She had all eternity to find out what she was, to reclaim her soul.

To redeem herself.

But that didn't mean she couldn't enjoy it!

"The Last Trial", copyright Michael Bard