All The Warm Lives, part 6: Judgment Day

Most of Osanna’s dialog in this part was written by Derrick.

***

Zelia sat nervously among the gallery of the courtroom of the Pediment Building, where the Justice Court was preparing to meet regarding Glenn’s sentencing. She had never actually been inside this room before; she had been to the Pediment Building over a few minor infractions over the years, but none of them had ever warranted her going before the Justices.

The room itself looked more like a small arena than a courtroom. The chamber was circular and bowl-shaped. Zelia was currently seated among a row of other spectators in one of the rows of tiered benches that ran along the length of the wall of the room; the one in front of her was set a bit lower, and the one behind her a bit higher, so as to allow everyone a better look at what was happening in the center of the chamber. At the back of the room at ground level stood a pair of double doors that lead to the rest of the building, where other people were currently filing in and making their way up the rows of benches to find seats in the gallery around Zelia. At the opposite end of the floor of the chamber stood a long bench atop a raised dais, with thirteen individual chairs behind it, all currently empty. In the center of the room stood a second, smaller platform, large enough for a single person to stand upon but devoid of any furnishings.

Stop fidgeting,” Carmine said, glancing at her sister. “Just be glad you’re not the one on trial.”

What would I be on trial for?” Zelia demanded, giving her sister a sideways look with a frown.

I have no idea,” Carmine replied with a shrug, “but I don’t doubt there’s something.”

Zelia made a harumphing noise. “Where’s Lena, anyway? I thought she was coming.”

Lady Balthazar decided not to attend today’s proceedings,” Carmine replied impassively. “She and her father asked me to attend in their stead and report the outcome of the hearing to them.”

Uh-huh,” Zelia muttered, turning back to look down into the base of the room. “So she’ll pay his fine to get him out of here, but she won’t turn up for his hearing.”

Technically, her father paid the fine – and also asks kindly that that information does not become public knowledge,” Carmine corrected with a frown.

Whatever,” Zelia said irritably. “I still think she could have come.”

Carmine raised an eyebrow at her sister. “Why does this person mean so much to you, anyway? From what I understand, he has done some horrible things.”

Zelia looked back at Carmine, her own eyebrows raised in surprise. “Have you ever met him?”

Once. When he broke into the manor and accosted Lord Balthazar.”

Yeah, you told me all about that. He’s just a friend. He’s not that bad. I just want to be there to support him.”

Just a friend?” Zelia could hear a rare hint of amusement in her sister’s voice. “Are you sure there’s nothing more?”

You know I don’t like guys that way, Carmine,” Zelia snapped, glaring at her sister. “Look, he’s been through…a lot. I don’t even know all of it, I don’t think, but I know he doesn’t really have anybody. He had Lena, till…well…”

The half-elf sisters fell silent, watching as the gallery filled up around them. Gradually, people also began taking seats at the long bench at the front of the chamber as well: an elegantly dressed elven woman, an old, wrinkled gnomish man, a middle-aged human woman with a shawl wrapped around her head. After the rest of the seats at the bench had been filled, only the middle chair remained empty.

As the talking around the sisters gradually began to die down to a murmur, a lone figured clad in a dark cloak, the hood drawn up over her head, appeared in the doorway. Although Zelia couldn’t see her face, she recognized her instantly. “Lena!” she hissed over the whispering crowd; several people turned to glance at her, and Carmine grabbed her by the wrist to yank her back into her seat as she began to stand. “Lena, up here!”

Helena glanced around once or twice before making her way up the rows of benches toward where the half-elves were sitting. “I’m not too late, am I?” the human woman asked, breathing slightly heavily as she took a seat between them. “Has it already started?”

No, I think they’re just about to begin,” Zelia replied, scooting over to make room for her friend. She caught sight of an older human man with salt and peppered hair, dressed in a finely tailored dark grey suit coat as he entered the chamber and made his way toward the bench where the rest of the Justices sat. “Where have you been?”

Lady Balthazar, I thought you decided to not attend today,” Carmine said, glancing between Helena and the center of the chamber.

I changed my mind,” Helena replied, settling herself between the two half-elves. She delicately removed a pair of silken gloves, setting them across her lap, but left the hood of her cloak up over her raven curls.

Let’s get on with this, shall we?” the man with the salt and pepper hair said abruptly, glancing at the men and women around him; he had taken a seat in the final, center chair in the middle of the bench of Justices, and Zelia suspected he must be Bayl Argentine, the Lord Justice. “Bring him in.”

The chamber fell silent and there was a brief pause before Zelia heard the main doors in the back of the room open. A moment later a pair of Hellknights, clad in dark red armor, walked into the room. Both had their faces obscured by the standard horned helm worn by the Order of the Nail, and both were brandishing wicked-looking, spiked halberds longer than they were tall. As they took up positions on either side of the platform in the center of the room, two more figures appeared: a third Hellknight who Zelia did not recognize, this one dressed in dark steel armor with a twisted, screaming face emblazoned in the breastplate, his face unobstructed by any helm; and a figure Zelia was unfortunately familiar with. Glenn looked much as he had last time she had seen him, although he had on a slightly nicer set of clothes, and his hands were currently manacled in front of him. He was escorted to the platform in the center of the room by the third Hellknight, who motioned for him to step onto the podium before taking a step back.

Zelia was so focused on watching Glenn that she barely noticed the two other figures as they entered the chamber behind the Hellknight company. The first was a human man clad in flowing, layered robes of alternating black and scarlet red. A black tabard with golden trim hung over his neck and down the center of his chest, cinched around his waist with a matching golden sash. In the center of the black mantle draped over the man’s chest was a red symbol, an upside down star the likeness of a pentagram. His high cheekbones, pale skin, dark eyes, and neatly trimmed hair and goatee hinted at his Chelish heritage, not unlike Zelia’s friend who sat between her and her sister,

The last figure stood in stark contrast from the other people gathered in the center of the courtroom; not only was she not human – her purple skin, yellow eyes and horns, and slender tail giving away some kind of fiendish heritage – her armor was of a brilliant, polished hue, blue and silver in color, and where the Hellknight commander had a tortured visage on his breastplate, the woman had a golden ankh embellished on hers. Her presence seemed to make the dim chamber a little lighter, and if it weren’t for her demonic appearance, Zelia would have thought she was some kind of celestial being, especially given the thin, silvery halo that crested her horns.

She doesn’t look like a Hellknight,” Zelia whispered, leaning in close to Helena and Carmine.

That’s Lady Redbreeze,” Carmine whispered in reply. “A Sarenite paladin. She’s not a member of the Order of the Nail, but I believe she is associated with them somehow. She is the one who convinced Lord Balthazar to pay Midori’s fines.”

Zelia stared at the paladin as she and the man clad in black robes took seats on either side of the chamber on the first row of benches, which had remained empty up until now. She looked vaguely familiar, the more Zelia studied her. Had she been one of the people Glenn had been traveling with during his quest last year?

Glenn Midori,” the Lord Justice said suddenly, breaking the silence in the chamber as he stared down at a piece of parchment on the bench in front of him, “you have been charged with breaking into the family estate of House Gallahad, the kidnapping of Lady Helena Balthazar, and assault upon Lord Mordecai Gallahad, a member of the Council of Ushers.” He paused, looking up at Glenn with a frown. “It is my understanding you have plead guilty to all of these charges.”

Yes, sir,” Glenn replied, meeting the Justice’s gaze. Zelia could feel Helena shift uncomfortably next to her.

Very well. I also see here the standard fine for these transgressions has already been paid, by an anonymous benefactor,” the Lord Justice paused again, glancing around the room, as if expecting someone to come forward to claim this accomplishment, but the room remained silent, so he pressed on, “so all that remains is to decide your sentencing. I understand we have a couple of individuals here who would like to speak to that before we reach a decision.” Zelia saw him glance between the robe-garbed man, and the fiendish woman sitting opposite each other before settling his gaze on the man. “Vicar Corvitus, you are here to speak on behalf of the Gallahads, yes? We shall begin with you.”

Thank you, Lord Argentine,” the man said as he stood, a thin smile spreading across his face as he walked toward the center of the room. Glenn glanced at him with a small frown as the vicar made his way around to the front of the podium where Glenn stood, but otherwise remained silent and motionless upon the platform. “I understand you have a rather generous benefactor, to have paid your fines for you. Tell me, why have they not come forward to be recognized for such a charitable act if they are so concerned about your wellbeing?” Glenn still did not respond, so the vicar continued, his cold smile spreading wider across his lips as he stood directly before the podium to face Glenn. “And why would you need a benefactor in the first place? Because you can’t afford to pay your own fines?”

Right, because each one of us doesn’t have more gold than the collective sum of this entire city combined,” came a mumbled voice somewhere to Zelia’s left. She glanced aside; a round, squat man dressed in plain brown robes accented with a violent orange cloak was seated on the same tier bench as she was, a little ways away, staring down at the proceedings through a single eye. His other eye was missing, having been replaced by what appeared to be a large, white flower, its five petals protruding from his eyesocket and wriggling ever so slightly. Zelia stared at the man, her jaw open slightly, before the vicar’s voice from the center of the chamber drew her attention back to the matter at hand.

Let me begin by saying that this man is not only a violent criminal, he is a petty thug and a thief, and has been for some time,” Corvitus continued in a silky voice, turning to face the Justices seated behind the bench at the head of the courtroom. “It is a disgrace to our judicial system that he has been allowed to roam free for as long as he has, and it would be nothing less than a crime in and of itself to sentence him to anything less than what the maximum punishment our law allows under the circumstances.”

A heavy silence filled the room, broken only by the shuffling of papers by the Lord Justice. “I do not see where he has ever been convicted or even accused of any other crimes,” Argentine said after a moment, setting the papers aside and focusing his gaze on Vicar Corvitus, “yet you claim he has committed acts of thievery and more in the past?”

Too right, he has,” Corvitus confirmed, moving around the platform to pace back and forth behind where Glenn stood like a predatory cat might stalk its prey. “The most recent incident was against a couple of upstanding members of the Pathfinder Society just last winter; he deliberately accosted them in the Bazaar of Sails in order to appropriate items they had just purchased from a vendor there.”

What!?” Glenn cried, looking outraged as he turned to face the vicar. “I did not!” One of the Hellknights immediately grabbed him by the arm, holding him firmly in place.

‘Upstanding’ and ‘Pathfinder Society’ do not belong together in the same sentence,” came another muttered comment from the man sitting on the bench near Zelia.

Silence, prisoner,” the Lord Justice commanded, banging a mallet on the bench once as he glared down at Glenn; a ripple of whispers had spread across the gallery, but was quieted almost immediately at Argentine’s command. A few of the other Justices were leaning in close to each other, speaking among themselves as the Lord Justice motioned for Corvitus to continue.

This is merely the latest in a long chain of similar offenses,” Corvitus crooned smoothly, “years long. This man has been robbing from the innocents of Magnimar for over a decade, too cowardly to come crawling out of the shadows to earn an honest living like the rest of us.”

Yes, because I’m sure an Asmodean priest has never told a single lie in his entire life,” the flower-eyed man commented sarcastically. Zelia could see the fiendish woman cover her mouth with her hand, her tail twitching slightly; Glenn dropped his head into his own bound hands, covering his face with his palms, although Zelia could see the edges of his cheeks turn nearly the color of her flaming red hair as the Lord Justice slammed his mallet down on the bench.

You, sir,” Argentine stated, staring up at the man with the orange cloak seated near Zelia, pointing at him with his mallet, “if you cannot hold your tongue, I will have you removed from this chamber!”

Zelia glanced aside toward the man as he rolled his one good eye, crossing his arms in front of him in annoyance.

There was a moment’s pause as a few people in the room whispered to one another, and Corvitus seemed to regain his composure; the flower-eyed man certainly seemed to have ruffled his feathers. The vicar moved next to podium, standing next to Glenn with his arms crossed behind his back; Glenn slowly turned around to face the Justices before him again, but Zelia could see him watching the vicar out of the corner of his eye, his lips downturned into a barely contained scowl. “Thievery is not even the worst of this man’s misdeeds,” Corvitus continued as the murmuring of the crowd died down. “He assaulted and nearly killed Mordecai Gallahad, my fellow member of the Council of Ushers – an unprovoked attack during the subsequent kidnapping of the councilman’s fiance that left Lord Gallahad with several broken ribs and a broken jaw, as well as damage to one eye that resulted in impaired vision that he may never fully recover from. And this, too, is not the first time this vicious brute has attacked a citizen of our community – and his last victim was not so fortunate.”

What is he talking about?” Zelia asked quietly, feeling mildly alarmed as she turned to lean in close to Helena again.

I – I’m not sure,” Helena replied in a whisper without breaking her gaze away from the proceedings below. Although her hood still obscured most of her features, Zelia could tell from the tone of her voice that Helena too was troubled by the vicar’s sudden accusation.

Quiet,” Carmine warned, her voice breaking into Zelia’s thoughts as the vicar continued.

A thief, a thug, a kidnapper – as if all of these things weren’t bad enough, this man is also a murderer,” Vicar Corvitus announced over the hushed silence that had befallen the courtroom.

What?” Helena breathed, although Zelia barely heard her over the sudden outburst of activity that had erupted among both the Justices and the audience inside the chamber.

Not only a murderer, but a murderer of a father of two small children,” Corvitus declared, walking around to the front of the podium again to face Glenn directly. “He left them, homeless and parentless, after viciously stabbing their father in cold blood in the middle of winter.”

Zelia couldn’t see Glenn’s face from the angle she was sitting at, but she could tell his shoulders had stiffened, perhaps in shock, or confusion, or rage, or some combination of the three.

Another surge of activity rippled across the courtroom. Zelia thought she could hear the man in the orange cloak mutter something about a lot more people being homeless and parentless if it weren’t for Glenn’s recent actions, but above the din in the courtroom, she couldn’t hear him clearly. The Lord Justice was banging his mallet on the bench, calling for silence, but Zelia barely noticed; Helena was suddenly on her feet between the half-elves, stumbling over the rest of the people seated in their row as she made her way toward the exit.

Lena–” Zelia started, trying to catch Helena’s hand, but the noblewoman pulled free before Zelia could grab her.

I can’t stay here,” Helena gasped; Zelia could hear her voice cracking. “I knew this was a mistake, coming here.”

A moment later, Helena was rushing out the entrance; Zelia glanced between her and Glenn, who was looking desperately around the room. She wasn’t sure if he had seen Helena leave or not; she gradually became aware of the muttering all around her by the rest of the people seated in the audience.

Murderer?”
He deserves to rot in the Hells with the rest of the scum there.”
I heard he had some trouble with the Balthazar family even before all this, too.”

No – Lena –“ Zelia started, half-standing as Lord Argentine slammed his mallet down again.

I’ll go after her,” Carmine said. Zelia watched for a moment as her sister stood and hurriedly made her way out of the courtroom before turning her attention back to the center of the chamber. The chattering had mostly died down again, and the vicar had taken his seat on the bench opposite the fiendish woman, the thin smile still playing coyly in his lips.

Very well, thank you, Vicar Corvitus,” Lord Argentine’s voice boomed through the courtroom as he banged his mallet down on the bench one more time. An uneasy quiet settled over the chamber once more as the Lord Justice turned to look at the purple-skinned woman sitting at the opposite end of the room. “Lady Redbreeze, you are becoming something of a regular at these proceedings. I believe you are here to speak on the prisoner’s behalf?”

That I am, Lord Argentine,” the woman replied as she stood. Zelia could see her tail twitching slightly, the pointed tip dancing agitatedly across the floor.

Argentine uttered a faint sigh. “Go on, then.”

Thank you,” Redbreeze said with a nod. She took a few steps forward until she was standing next to Glenn, although neither of them looked at each other; Glenn was staring at the platform he was standing upon, and the woman was gazing up at the row of judges seated behind the bench before her. “Good afternoon, Justices,” she began, nodding again in greeting to the judicial body as a whole. “Before I proceed, allow me to retort, for the benefit of all ears listening, about the wholly irrelevant and ineffectual attempt at character assassination of the accused that my counterpart, Vicar Corvitus, made just a few moments ago.” She paused to glance at the black robed man sitting on the opposite side of the room, who simply turned his nose up slightly to her before she continued, “Point by point, as it were.”

Firstly, in regards to the generous soul that has paid Mr. Midori’s fine. What of it?” The fiendish woman turned back to look at the Justices. “I believe that we here are all free to give of ourselves, be it monetarily or otherwise, as we see fit so long as the giving is sanctioned under the laws of Magnimar. Also, we have a right to privacy when we give should we desire it, for whatever our reasons may be. Mr. Midori having his own funds to pay the fine is completely beside the point. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that this ‘benefactor’ did what they thought was the right thing to do. We should all encourage that type of behavior, not stymie it, should we not?”

Zelia tried to imagine Byron Balthazar doing anything that involved parting with his own coin for someone else’s behalf simply because it was the “right thing to do” and failed. How this woman had ever convinced him to pay for Glenn’s fines was still a mystery to both her and Carmine.

Secondly, the incident in the bazaar with the Pathfinders,” Redbreeze continued. Glenn glanced up at the mention of this, casting the fiendish woman a sideways glance, but Redbreeze continued to address the Justices without breaking stride in her gaze or her intonation. “Two young ladies by the names of Kiroko and Yomiko Yukishiro. Both of these young ladies and Captain Heidmarch of the Pathfinder Lodge were kind enough to speak with me regarding this matter. Simply put, it was an unfortunate incident involving clumsiness and bad luck. All matters were sorted out between the three individuals involved in the incident on the evening in question, and no ‘thievery’ took place whatsoever.” The woman paused here, very briefly, and Zelia thought she saw her golden eyes flicker toward Glenn for just a moment before returning to look up at the panel of judges. “The only thing ‘deliberate’ about the incident was Mr. Midori trying to be an honest man. You’ll notice that no charges were ever brought up regarding this incident, after all.”

This is correct,” Argentine confirmed, flipping through the paperwork set before him once again. “As I previously stated, this is the prisoner’s first recorded offense. It is not uncommon for the Pathfinders to take these kinds of matters upon themselves to sort out, however. Do continue.”

Yes. Moving on to this ‘murder’ that purportedly took place in some distant winter.” There was another pause as a very heavy silence descended on the room; Zelia could feel her heart thumping almost painfully against her ribs. She knew Glenn had fought goblins and giants and undead monstrosities during his quest last year, and didn’t doubt that he had killed creatures – maybe even people – in order to save Varisia. But murder?

Mr. Midori has spoken to me about the night in question,” Redbreeze continued, drawing Zelia out of her reverie. “I will point out to the Justices that this incident was some thirteen to fourteen years ago when he was barely an adolescent,” Zelia heard herself gasp quietly; Lena hadn’t even known him that long ago, “and that there is no evidence that the other man, in fact, died as a result. You all know this city, and have resided here much longer than I have.” The fiendish woman paused again; a dull murmur had begun to sweep across the room, and she glanced around at the gallery as the Lord Justice slammed his mallet down once, restoring silence to the chamber.

You know well the number of orphans on the streets who are starving and freezing, or have very sadly died as a result of the aforementioned afflictions. You’ll soon hear what I’m trying to do to rectify that sad state of affairs, if you don’t already know. But, in regards to the man in question,” Redbreeze indicated to Glenn, who Zelia realized was staring at her now as she continued to speak, her voice calm, although Zelia thought she could hear a fierce edge rising to it as her dialog continued, “he was merely a child at that point, and it was half a lifetime ago. What are we to do, Justices? If Vicar Corvitus had his way, we’d throw every child into The Hells for the awful crime of seeking their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and water that no one was able to provide for them. What next, then? Shall we start cutting their fingers off every time they touch something that they ought not to? Remove their tongues every time they speak out of turn? Preposterous and horrid!”

Never subtle about anything, are you, Osanna?” The orange cloaked man’s comment could be heard clearly even above the surge of whispers that rippled across the room, as he was clearly not even trying to keep his voice down.

Justice Argentine banged his mallet against the bench three times, a harsh staccato that rang out above the din of voices in the courtroom. “Yes, yes, you’ve made your point, Lady Redbreeze. Order in the court!” he barked, glaring first down at the purple-skinned woman standing before him, then glancing imperiously around at the crowd seated around the room. Another hush fell across the chamber, although a few members of the Justices were still leaning in close to each other, talking in hushed tones behind their hands. “Get on with it,” the Lord Justice continued, turning his attention back to the fiendish woman.

Redbreeze nodded her head once in respect before continuing. “Lastly, I would encourage my opponent,” she paused to glance at Corvitus, who was still frowning and staring at her with his arms crossed across his chest, “and anyone else in this room,” another pause as she turned slowly to sweep her gaze across the audience of the chamber around her, her voice rising in volume as she addressed the myriad of people seated in the benches all around Zelia, “to exercise extreme caution when describing the accused as ‘cowardly.’” The fiery edge Zelia had detected in her voice moments ago had suddenly turned cold, and the half-elf couldn’t suppress a shudder as it ran down her spine. “With my own eyes, I have seen this man meet the worst this world has to offer us mere mortals, relentlessly putting himself into potentially life threatening situations to protect others, despite repeated council to the contrary. He even died once…” Redbreeze turned again, this time to face Glenn directly, and the two of them stared at each other for a moment; Zelia could almost feel the tension in the room, so thick she thought she could slice it like bread before a knife, before the demonic woman continued, her voice lowering again, “trying to save my life. He is a great many things, but a coward he is not,” she turned to face the Justices once more, her tail lashing once behind her as she finished in an icy tone, “and I would personally have words with those who would lie and say otherwise.”

Silence filled the court chamber as Redbreeze’s words finished echoing off the stone walls. Zelia realized at that moment how very little she actually knew about Glenn. She knew he had been an orphan before he had gone to live with the Balthazars some years ago, but didn’t realize he had been living on the streets, having to fight – maybe even kill – just to survive. She knew he had left Magnimar last year, first to break the curse that had turned him into a grippli, and then in order to stop some powerful wizard – a Runelord, he had called it – from taking over Varisia. She knew he had died once during his journey, and that his friends had gone to great lengths to bring him back. But in reality she had no idea the magnitude of any of the things he had been through. Not really. Not her, and surely not anyone else in the room around her.

The other Justices glanced at each other quietly, but the Lord Justice was leaning forward on his elbows, peering down at the purple-skinned woman through narrowed eyes. “Your retorts are duly noted, Lady Redbreeze,” he spoke softly. His gaze was impossible to read; Zelia couldn’t tell if he was irritated, impressed, impassioned, or simply indifferent to the whole proceeding going on around him. “Are you finished?”

Not quite, Lord Justice,” Redbreeze replied. Her voice had returned to the calm, collected cadence she had started with. “I still wish to discuss the potential outcome of today’s hearing.” The Justices glanced among themselves again; Argentine leaned back in his chair, and Redbreeze took that as permission to continue. “Your current course of action is to remand this man to The Hells for some years, where he’ll rot until he either dies in captivity or is released to walk under the sun again. It is a harsh punishment for a man with no proven criminal record.” She glanced again at Vicar Corvitus, who Zelia noted by now was scowling. “But is it truly warranted? Is this the right punishment to dispense for this particular man under these particular circumstances? You’ve all read the statements given by Mr. Midori and the report of the interrogation by Inquisitor Samael Thrune, so I see no need to repeat those facts and waste our collective time.”

Way too late for that, Osanna,” came another comment from the orange cloaked man sitting near Zelia.

You, sir,” Argentine started, pointing his mallet at the rotund man again, “I warned you once. Paralictor Halst, if you would be so kind?”

The Hellknight commander who had escorted Glenn into the courtroom, turned to glance up at the offender, as did both Glenn and the purple-skinned woman, but before anyone could react, the man in question spoke. “No need. I can see myself out.” He stood suddenly, and a moment later, he disappeared.

Another surge of commotion ran across the courtroom; the Hellknights glanced around cautiously, Redbreeze’s tail flicked once behind her as she turned back toward the Justices, and Argentine slammed his mallet repeatedly down on the bench before him. “Silence! Silence in the courtroom, or I will clear these proceedings!” Gradually, the whispering died down again, and one of the Hellknights gripped Glenn by the elbow, spinning him around on the podium to face the Justices as Argentine sat back again with a sigh, motioning for Redbreeze to continue.

I would remind you that no one here in this room is contesting whether or not Mr. Midori is guilty of the crimes that he has been accused of,” Redbreeze pressed on after the gallery had calmed slightly. “He is. He’s confessed as much. Rather, we are here to determine whether or not the proposed punishment fits those crimes, and not the unfounded and irrelevant accusations that you heard earlier. Is being locked in a dark hole for years and having the key practically thrown away an appropriate punishment for these crimes? I think not, and that, ultimately, is why I’m here this afternoon. To convince you that this man, my friend and comrade-in-arms,” Redbreeze glanced at Glenn again, although he was looking back down at the platform he was standing upon, avoiding her and the Justices’ gazes, “would be of much better benefit to us all if he were allowed to serve his punishment in a different and much more productive capacity.”

And what capacity might that be?” Argentine asked, templing his fingertips together he gazed down at Redbreeze over the edge of the bench he was seated at.

Many of you are fully aware of the steps that I’m taking in conjunction with the assistance of the Council of Ushers and the Order of the Nail to cleanse and renovate The Underbridge district,” Redbreeze began again, turning once more to glance across the crowd as she spoke before returning her gaze to the Justices before her. “I would ask that you allow Mr. Midori to assist me in the construction of a shelter and school for the vagabond and underprivileged children of the Underbridge, where he would serve as a mentor and a guide to these boys and girls whom he can directly relate to due to his past life experiences and help to steer them on to a different course in life other than thievery and extortion as the Sczarni would have had them follow.”

More murmuring filled the room, although Argentine didn’t bother to attempt to quell the buzz immediately this time. He was staring down at Redbreeze, a contemplative, piercing look on his face as he studied her.

I have a question,” came a voice from next to the Lord Justice, and Zelia saw a small halfling woman raise her hand. Argentine rapped his mallet on the bench once to restore silence to the chamber.

Yes, Madam Justice?” Redbreeze addressed the halfling, turning to face her.

Why him?” the halfling asked, gesturing toward Glenn. “Surely there are other people who can help you build this shelter of yours.”

There may be others who can help me with the physical construction of it, yes,” the demon woman agreed, “but to run it, to take in the children who would find sanctuary there and guide them to a better life, I would ask for no one other than him.” She paused, and the halfling woman – along with several others seated around her at the Justice’s bench – gave her curious or critical looks before she continued, her voice strong and steady. “He made a mistake. We all have. He has admitted to this freely and does not deny the magnitude of his error. Humility alone is a virtue to be commended, and one that these children would benefit from learning. But humility is far from his only – or best – quality of character. Honesty. Kindness. Empathy.” She paused again, glancing at Glenn before murmuring the last word, a little softer than the others. “Love.”

Glenn glanced up at her suddenly, but the fiendish woman had already turned back to look at the halfling seated next to Argentine. “There is no better person who can reach these children – some of them already hurt or scarred by any number of atrocities that you or I may not be able to imagine – than one who has lived through that life himself, and turned out as compassionate as this man has. You have a chance, here and now, to choose a better way for this man and for those children whom he would help in the future. Retribution, or compassion – what type of judgment is befitting of this man’s actions? Show the people behind me that we can all be better than what we are now.”

Once again, the Justices turned to speak softly amongst themselves, although Argentine was not partaking in the discussion. He was still staring at Redbreeze with that contemplative look. “Paralictor Halst,” the Lord Justice said suddenly, turning his attention to the Hellknight Commander.

Lord Justice?” the Hellknight replied, taking a step forward.

It is my understanding that you have housed the prisoner at the Bastion of the Nail since his capture, correct? What is your make of the man?”

Halst glanced at Glenn, who did not meet the Hellknight’s gaze, before turning back to Argentine. “I admit that I have interacted little with him, personally. But my subordinates have reported that he has demonstrated exemplary behavior, as far as prisoners are concerned. No incidents to report.”

And what of the one who did capture and interrogate him – this Inquisitor Thrune?” Argentine continued, leaning forward to fold his arms across the bench. The rest of the Justices had ceased their discussion and were paying attention to the Lord Justice’s line of questioning now. “Is he available for us to query?”

Unfortunately he is not,” Halst replied. “I believe he is actually attending to some loose ends regarding this issue for the Order of the Nail currently.”

Zelia wondered briefly what Halst was referring to, and so must have Redbreeze, as she shot him a curious look, frowning slightly, before the Lord Justice commented, “Very well. I believe we are prepared to make our ruling, then, unless either of you have anything else to add?” He glanced between Redbreeze and Corvitus.

No, sir,” Redbreeze responded, “thank you for your time.” She strode back to her side of the bench, taking her seat opposite Corvitus.

I’ve said everything there is to say about this criminal,” the vicar spat venomously.

Good,” Argentine replied, sitting back in his seat. He glanced left, then right, among his fellow Justices. “Is everyone ready to cast their vote? All in favor of Lady Redbreeze’s proposal.”

Zelia was only vaguely aware that she was holding her breath as several hands among the Justices went up; hurriedly she counted them. Four…five…six…seven…eight, including the halfling woman who had spoken to Redbreeze earlier. Eight, out of thirteen. That was majority, so did that mean…?

The Lord Justice – who had not voted – glanced back and forth, counting, once, twice. A frown crested his features. “Eight votes,” he announced. The air in the courtroom was thick with silence. “Very well,” Argentine sighed, “it seems you have made your case, Lady Redbreeze. Paralictor, I believe you usually handle the finer details under these circumstances?”

Yes, Lord Justice,” the Hellknight commander affirmed with a nod.

Fine. We will send along the appropriate paperwork for you. Get him out of here,” the Lord Justice said, waving his hand dismissively. Zelia wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but she could see Corvitus scowling deeply as he stood suddenly and stormed out of the room ahead of everyone else. Halst was having a word with Redbreeze, but their conversation couldn’t be heard above the din that had suddenly erupted around Zelia from where she was seated.

Wait, what happened?” the half-elf said to no one in particular. The other two Hellknights were escorting Glenn out of the courtroom. “Glenn!” she called, and he glanced toward her as she stood.

Zellie!” he called back, trying to pull free from the Hellknights’ grip, but they pushed him forward toward the door. “Meet me at the Bastion!”

A moment later, they were gone.

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