Elements Askew

Stories from an alternate post-Sanyumato Rhydin.

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Elements Askew

Post by Goldglo » Mon Jan 14, 2013 5:41 pm

In the middle of the night, I don’t understand what’s going on. It’s a world gone astray.

– Sharon den Adel

In stark comparison to the usual symphony of battle—the clash of metal against metal, flesh on flesh, and spell against counter-spell—the Arena stood in eerie silence. Layered like funeral shrouds, shadows from half-lit torches mixed with years of ash and smoke and danced along the walls, puppets of flickering flames. Intense spotlights, each a brilliant sun flare, cascaded onto the empty rings as an indication of their availability. Those lights kept the shadows at bay and away from the hallowed ground where duels transpired, where men and women shed their souls and their lives. Should two combatants step into any brightly lit dueling ring, the lights would dim so as to not hinder the vision of duelers and spectators. For now, the concentrated glow from the spotlights remained vivid and severe, more demanding than inviting as though eager to witness the next bloodletting. One lone individual stood within the Arena, taking a long surveying look over the rings, the Duelers' Staging Area and the barricaded pen where the Ward Tests occurred.

In contrast to the nervousness and anticipation he felt within his knotted stomach, slow even puffs of air casually flowed from the man’s nose. He stared at the pen and chuckled to himself at the irony. Taking life to ensure others survived – to allow life to subsist, perhaps even thrive in another, in many others. Was such sacrifice noble? Cruel? Selfish? He did not allow himself the luxury of seeking out the answer. He checked himself with a sigh; he could not afford to waste any more of this night on philosophy or concern for the sanctity of existence. He could not afford to allow an inroad for doubt, not on this night.

Pausing before the barricaded pen, he stopped and stared at the sand-covered floor within. These sands had already served their purpose for the evening and required replacement. The alluring and tempting beauty of the sands greatly contrasted with their purpose. He shuddered, briefly reflecting upon the horrors that took place upon those very sands each and every night. He checked himself a second time, muttering a soft curse against his unrelenting sentiments before brushing away those memories like solvent upon painted canvas. When fresh and new, the sands (imported by The Hub from a locale unknown to him and reserved solely for this specific pen) took on a crystalline appearance under the overhead lights. Each grain, brilliant enough in its own right, joined with the collective to catch and refract the rings’ spotlights in blinding white. Sometimes, he compared looking at a new sand batch to staring into the very soul of a star or the pure nature of an angel. But how quickly those sands could change. Would change. Did change. Regardless of whether the Wards were intact but especially when they failed, crimson blood from the chosen sacrificial creature streaked onto those snowy grains as if splattered by a butcher’s knife. On nights when the Wards abandoned the Arena, those sands greedily absorbed blood and viscera They turned a deeper red than the oldest richest burgundy wine and served as a stark warning that any dueler electing to fight that evening did so with their life on the line. If the Wards proved intact, green lights on the Pen and the Arena’s scoreboard would light and white cloth would automatically descend from the board. If the Wards proved absent, the lights remained dark, black shrouds automatically draped from the scoreboard and the official on duty assumed responsibility for personally informing all entrants that to duel was to risk their lives. The one-hundred twenty-nine names on the Killboard served as a warning and another reminder, listing those whose deaths resulted from a Ward-Free duel. Despite recognizing each and every name listed, he mourned none but for a select few.

The Hub required replacement of the sands each and every night, regardless of whether the individual in the pen, be they animal or slave, bled and died or lived to see another day. Dueling could not begin without a Ward Test and duelers who arrived after the Test understood that the color of the sand represented the results from that night and that night alone. The system, though simple, proved its effectiveness time and again over the years. Everyone knew that any sort of outside trickery regarding the sands would be met with swift retaliation by The Hub. Fear of The Hub’s brutal reprisal kept the dueling population in line and prevented any manipulation or deception regarding the sands and the Ward Tests.

The man looked away from the pen and swept his gaze upward toward the rafters that crisscrossed the cavern’s curved ceiling where HubWatchers tracked his presence and his movements. The HubWatchers – overhead cameras which dotted the Arena and from which there was no hiding or escape – reminded him of the ones that had once kept vigilant watch over the Outback. The HubWatchers’ feeds routed directly back to The Hub where, he presumed, members from the organization constantly monitored the feed until dueling hours officially ended—if not longer. Shivering, he raised his hands to vigorously rub his arms.

“Too cold,” he declared loudly. Those words, an echo not lost in time but transmitted with precision straight to The Hub, reverberated throughout the Arena. He walked over to the atmospheric monitors and tapped the gauge with his right index finger. A slight veil of frost covered the readout. Just inches away from the display, he could barely make out the temperature. He knew that scrubbing the frost away would divulge the truth and present a number that greatly contrasted with the frigid air. He smiled at the icy sheen on the monitor. The fragmented, cracked reflection greeting him looked like macabre clown, the smile twisted and broken by icy crevices. Another irony.

Protected against enchantments and tampering, the HubWatchers' lenses still remained susceptible to the laws of nature. As with the temperature display, frost obscured their lenses. The Hub wouldn’t be happy with their monitoring devices partially disabled, even if they remained so for only a few moments. Likely there’d be a whole crew here within the hour, performing a thorough checkup and overhaul of the atmospheric regulators to deal with the temperature issues. “Better raise the heat,” he said, tapping the gauge a second time as if adjusting it. Almost immediately, the temperature rose and the frost began to wane. He returned to a slow methodical walk around the Arena’s perimeter.

Originally, much of the space occupied by the current Arena had once served as a wine cellar for the Red Dragon Inn. That cellar, selected for its relatively cool air and convenient location, had been built within a tunnel of unused catacombs. During the Arena’s reconstruction and expansion, The Hub – paying for and managing every detail of the work – demolished a large portion of the remaining catacombs and lengthened the dimensions of the Arena. The Arena’s walls, especially in the expanded sections, stood rough and jagged as evidence that the speed of reconstruction and development had taken priority over refinement. The old skyboxes and tapestries from years before no longer adorned the Arena. No portrait of Gondor honored the memory of the first Overlord. No banner paid homage to the old dueling families. While some remembered names like Redwin, Westridge, Lathadoscia, Dracoern and Questrion, those memories paid no benefit in the here and now where The Hub dominated life in Rhydin.

Only one banner hung in the Arena, a large domineering tapestry announcing, without question, the master of the venue and everyone within. The tapestry never failed to draw the attention of everyone who walked inside, whether they entered the Arena for the first or thousandth time. Over twenty meters in length and with a proportionate width, the tapestry resided directly over the Killboard. Spotlights intensified the richness of its scarlet cloth and finely embroidered white center. Most believed, not that it mattered, that The Hub had surely enchanted the brilliant white thread of the banner. It yet to dull or become a dingy yellow from the torch, pipe, cigarette and incense smoke that permeated the Arena every night, coating and darkening the walls and ceiling with dingy ash which helped return the venue, at least in appearance, to its dank catacomb roots. He could not help but look over to the banner – the most beautiful, valuable and foreboding item in the Arena. The image at the center reminded the man of a panopticon – an apt symbol for The Hub and its domineering presence in the life of everyone who lived in Rhydin. Intricate and impressive, the tapestry embodied The Hub itself. Yet, he could not help but wonder and hope that it all could be undone with the unraveling of a single thread. He knew such blasphemous thoughts could lead to his end, but as long as The Hub kept out of his mind—a task that proved more and more difficult to do against The Hub’s ever expanding capabilities—he allowed himself their comfort.

With the Annex sealed off, the Outback destroyed and Twilight Isle unreachable, the Arena served as the single locale for Sanctioned dueling in the city. The Hub dealt harshly with those who dared participate or lend support to Unsanctioned dueling, typically uncovering such venues and persons with ease. Anyone wishing to duel, at least legitimately, thus submitted themselves to The Hub which happily and greedily took control of yet another portion of their lives.

Returning to the monitor, he found a fog now covered the display due to the rapid temperature change. He frowned, realizing that the temperature rose much faster than he had anticipated. His miscalculation could cost the entire endeavor if he did not make haste. He looked up toward the HubWatchers again and smirked; like the temperature gauge readout, a hazy fog now obscured their lenses. He couldn’t worry about the imminent arrival of Hub workers now; in this moment, he had a job to do. A job demanded and required by The Hub.

Reaching out, he unhooked the steel-handled shovel attached to the side of the pen before lining up a series of empty sackcloth bags. The pen, built out of rough wooden beams salvaged from the wreckage of buildings destroyed during Sanyumato, looked rickety and escapable. In this instance, however, appearance deceived. A series of magnetic locks within the wooden frame fastened the door with a pair of tungsten rods, each two inches in diameter. When sealed, the rods extended several inches into the base-posts and provided a quite secure seal. The pen itself stood a few meters in length, just over a meter high and less than two meters wide. Strung along the sides and top of the pen, lines of razor wire ensured that any sacrificial creature attempting to flee a weapon’s strike would self-inflict enough wounds to test the Ward’s healing properties. Given the pen’s dimensions, slaves and taller animals found themselves forced to crouch, further limiting their mobility. Some still crawled, heads bent, noses buried in the fine white sands like pigs as they futilely attempted to extend their lives by a few meager moments by avoiding the spear, pole-arm or other weapon jabbed in their direction. Sliding open the door to the pen after disengaging the locks, he started the arduous process of transferring sand from the pen’s floor to the bags. He worked quickly. Within minutes, old sand filled the sacks placed for disposal and a fresh batch filled the pen, ready for the next night of dueling. The unsullied white sand glistened like gemstones under the pen's spotlight, glaringly bright. Though the reflection stung his eyes, he could not make himself look away. Only the sound of approaching footsteps jarred him from the memories beginning to bubble to the surface of his mind. Shoving those memories and the associated pain back into the recesses where they belonged, he quickly replaced the shovel, latched the pen’s door shut and walked toward the center of the Arena.

He rolled up the sleeves on his shirt as the temperature continued to rise too quickly. He had no time to waste.

After one last furtive glance up toward the fogged-over HubWatcher lenses, he lifted his right arm in greeting upon recognizing the advancing form and breathed a quick sigh of relief.

“Hello,” he called, “Glad you could make it!”
Last edited by Goldglo on Thu Mar 28, 2013 2:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Goldglo » Mon Jan 14, 2013 10:47 pm

The young woman who approached the Arena did so with a gait rarely seen in Rhydin. Most everyone shuffled their feet in a defeated trudge or walked briskly, driven more by fear than purpose. In contrast, she walked with the gait of a happy child as if ignorant of the misery surrounding her on all sides.

In the hours and days following Sanyumato, innumerable children found themselves without parents or family. Though many perished in the days following the storm, Matt Simon, then Governor of Rhydin, prioritized the welfare of children second to only ongoing citizen-rescue operations. Efforts to safely gather and protect these vulnerable youth, the Children of Sanyumato as they came to be known, went on for weeks.

Despite her history as one of these children, Maggie Harker was in many ways the antithesis of her personal tragedy. Nobody quite knew, nor cared, how old Maggie Harker had been when Sanyumato destroyed her home and killed her immediate and extended family. Growing up with an army of bereaved children in a variety of orphanages and group foster homes, Maggie never knew nor benefited from the wisdom of her grandmother, the sharp wits of her mother, the gods-given power within her lineage or the love of her own family. While she had never suffered cruel mistreatment or willful neglect like so many others, the time and resources needed for her proper education simply no longer existed. Thus, Maggie quite unknowingly fell far short of her potential, lacking the intellect and prudence she may have otherwise honed had Sanyumato never manifested. Her latent magical talents, untapped by lack of understanding and training, withered like a vine beneath scorching sun. Yet, what she lacked in perception she made up for in empathy and goodwill. Perpetually positive, she radiated an aura of joy nothing less than remarkable in post-Sanyumato Rhydin. Many wondered if the girl’s persistent cheer was her way of unconsciously coping with the storm permanently altering her fate, of bringing a small sliver of daily delight to a city and a population crushed by Sanyumato and dominated by The Hub.

Maggie’s vivid green eyes and deep brown hair with just a touch of curl paid homage to her female ancestry. Her most remarkable feature, though, was the seemingly permanent radiant smile she always wore – a smile that reflected her personal stance that each day was a gift, one that deserved her most positive outlook and gratitude. Her smile, though, contained a touch too much innocence and betrayed her naiveté. Still, rare was the person who dared take advantage of her. By virtue of that smile and its ability to give people a moment’s warmth and respite from an otherwise haggard existence, Maggie had earned a stature within the city of which she remained unaware. People were drawn to Maggie and would protect her; they naturally warmed to her, falling in love with her vivacious smile before the girl herself.

Excitedly, Maggie continued her approach to the Arena, beaming that smile toward a group of tired drunk workmen that stumbled out of the Red Dragon Inn. Though Curfew had passed, the danger was minimal since she walked within the Dragon’s Gate district. She felt safe and happy, feelings which intensified when she spotted the man inside the Arena and heard his kind greeting. Her smile widened and she waved vigorously, answering with enthusiasm, “Hi Mister Simon! Thanks for meeting me!”
Last edited by Goldglo on Thu Mar 28, 2013 2:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Goldglo » Wed Jan 16, 2013 12:51 pm

She danced with you last night
So you will remember
All you have shared –
A lifetime.

The angels were watching
And death will be waiting –
Till the time is right.

– Sharon den Adel

Matthew Algiers Simon, in contrast to so many others, was not drawn to Maggie Harker simply because of her infectious smile. To him, she represented one of the few remaining links to the past, to memories of a better life, to Rhydin before the storm. Logically, she should have repulsed him. She did the exact opposite. Maggie became an escape.

Through the last sixteen years, he had never assuaged himself of the guilt that continuously gnawed upon his soul like a ravenous vulture. Sanyumato was his fault. He was sure of it, convinced of it. As Governor, his first responsibility to Rhydin, to its citizens, was their safety. He’d sworn that to them time and again. Had he disguised the truth to protect them or to protect himself? Over the years, he could no longer remember. It did not matter anymore. Starting with the death of RASG pilot Miles Jaffey; through all the unexplained shifts in weather patterns; the inability of Dr. Vardün and her climatologist & scientific teams to find a reason behind the sudden changes; the unsolved origins of a spontaneous out-of-control fire in the nearby forest; the out-and-out lie he told to the citizens of Rhydin on November 1st, a mere week before Sanyumato struck…he may not have directly caused Sanyumato but he knew the storm was linked to the strange events from the prior months. Events he had proven incapable of preventing or explaining. He’d considered a citywide evacuation but hadn’t wanted to panic the people. He’d told them everything would be all right. He’d promised them their safety by not exposing the truth.

Then, on the night of the Governor’s Ball, the unthinkable.

Countless deaths caused by his inaction, his impotency.

Buildings, blocks and entire neighborhoods buried under an unrelenting torrent of seawater.

A man died shaving, his home crushed by the waves.

A woman perished, pulled to the depths by the weight of her party-gown.

A baby died in its crib, softly cooing in his sleep.

The terrified screams of his twin sister turned to gurgles, then silence.

The waters became gray, laden with ash and death.

Disease gushed like fire from bloated discolored bodies floating through city streets like worms through tunnels.

Koyliak. Thia. Gone!

It all traced back to him and him alone. Every beat of his heart since that moment: a cruel jest; survival was his penance. He didn’t deserve atonement or forgiveness. He alone knew the magnitude of his sins. He alone would carry them.

Damn his heart, anyway. For beating. For remembering.

Especially for remembering.

For all too brief moments, in part because of her smile and in part because he’d known her family, Maggie Harker held a special place in his heart. He’d kept track of her over the years, helped where and when he could financially or otherwise. Often, he would promise to meet her and miss their appointment. At times, he would disappear for months to wallow in self-misery and despair before resurfacing to make contact once again desperate for a glimpse of her, for a glimpse into Before.

Matt Simon was the most stable thing in Maggie Harker’s young life. And every time she saw him, whether after another broken promise or months after their last meeting, she smiled in genuine happiness. Her open warmth and affection threatened to make the smallest repair to his otherwise ruined heart. Unworthy, he resisted.

When the young woman began dueling, seriously dueling in the mold of her mother and grandmother, he’d again watched her. He lent advice, encouragement and assistance. He wanted to see her succeed despite the damage done by the storm. He wanted to be part of that success, were it to blossom. If she failed, as so many others had, he supposed he deserved that, too.

The night prior, Maggie had come to the Arena, seeking a match. Already present, Matt watched as those she neared, even the Sweepers (The Hub’s own guards), could not help but return her smile. It was like watching sunlight gently kiss the petals of a flower. Each person involuntarily perked up as she approached, desperate to bask even for a half-second in the pleasure of her company as she walked past, savoring that moment for as long as possible. Upon spotting Matt, she had smiled even wider in her ever-endearing way and given him a hug. The absolute cruelty of that smile nearly overwhelmed him. Her simple innocent touch virtually destroyed him. He didn’t deserve her gratitude, her appreciation or even her recognition. He didn’t deserve her implicit trust; he had ravaged the whole of her life and she didn’t even realize. She, sweet girl that she was, did not deserve the fate he’d gifted to her sixteen years previously. This world was too awful, much too awful, for someone like Maggie Harker. It didn’t deserve her. It, he swore silently to himself, would not claim her.

He watched Maggie’s armed-combat duel against one of the Arena’s latest up-and-comers, a man named Del Lichtan. He had bested the girl handily, winning by a score of 5.5-1 in a scant six rounds. The match had cost her the Master-At-Arms rank and at least a small piece of personal pride, though she never showed her disappointment. Seizing the opportunity, he’d pulled her aside saying he’d noticed some flaws in her footwork and suggested she meet him the next night in the Arena after dueling hours for a practice session. The Sweepers would be gone and he could tutor her without distraction.

She had, of course, agreed.
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Post by Goldglo » Mon Feb 11, 2013 1:59 pm

Some days I don’t know if I am wrong or right.

Your mind is playing tricks on you my dear.

– Of Monsters And Men

Precious minutes slipped away, wasted upon greetings and the selection of dulled wooden swords weighted like the real thing but far less dangerous.

Out of habit, Maggie paused outside of the ring and looked over to the Ward Test Pen and the sparkling clean sands within. Anticipating the question, Matt spoke before she could ask.

“I just finished setting it up for tomorrow. It’s past closing time.”

Maggie looked from the Pen to Matt and smiled, setting aside any questions of risk. Even if the Wards failed, the worst they’d inflict upon each other was bruises that would last a few days at most.
She entered the ring.

“You ready for this,” he asked.

“I am.”

Matt glanced up at the cameras. Their lenses were still obscured by fog, but less so than he preferred. The temperature kept rising. He thought about attempting to slow down its progress with IceDancer but felt he could not afford to split his attention or his focus. Once across from Maggie, he gave her a quick salute and went on immediate attack. Their wooden weapons clacked and banged against one another. Echoes of their grunts and quick-stepping feet echoed throughout the otherwise silent Arena.

“Close your stance, Maggie,” he told her after nearly wrenching the sword from her grasp. “Don’t lock your elbow so much. Let your arm flow.”

She nodded, adjusted, and came at him. After a few more exchanges and another worried look up toward the ceiling, he lifted a hand.

“Let’s stop a minute, before we end.”

Maggie nodded and smiled, grateful for the chance to catch her breath. She looked at him inquisitively.

“You’re doing fine,” he answered her unasked question. “But we’ve got things to work on. We’ll get back to that in a moment. For now…”

Matt paused as his inner turmoil threatened to spill out like a freshly burst geyser, completely unrestrained. He swallowed hard, fighting the man he once was, remembering the man he’d become. His focus slipped. He felt his resolve waver.

His voice barely above a whisper, he forced the words out. “If you could change anything in your life, Maggie, what would it be?”

She looked at him, confusion replacing the cheer in her bright green eyes. “What do you mean, Mr. Simon?”

“I mean, Maggie,” he sighed with a frown as he dug the dulled point of the sword into the ring’s floor, “do you regret anything about your life. This existence. That you’d change if you could?”

“Of course not, Mr. Simon.” He should not have been surprised at her lack of hesitation. “Why would I want to change anything?”

“Maggie,” he half-smiled like a parent trying to guide a child away from an inappropriate answer, “Look at this city. Your life. The life you should have had and the one you do because of the storm. Are you telling me you wouldn’t want to go back and change anything?”

“This is my life, Mr. Simon,” she answered as if she could imagine no other. “It’s the one that’s been gifted to me. I know about the storm. I know it pains you. I know the guilt you carry. I know it’s why you disappear for weeks at a time and I know it’s why you’re always sad.”

With her words and conscious intent, Maggie opened the door of absolution. She caught her breath, hoping he’d step through.

Born of hope and love, her offer bit into him and knifed into his heart. It stung like a million grains of sand from a frenzied desert windstorm striking him all at once.

She stepped closer to him, reaching out to touch his cheek with her hand. “It was a storm, a tragic terrible thing. But you lived through it and so did I. This life is a gift, Mr. Simon. To change anything…wouldn’t that be like betraying that gift?”

Each one of her words damned him. Her touch carried the venom of doubt. So unbearable became the rising heat, her kind caress, her outright forgiveness, that he nearly crumpled to the ground and wept. For the first time, Matt wondered if somewhere in her naive innocence, Maggie Harker possessed wisdom far greater than his own.

Maggie Harker held the key to his redemption. She offered him what she could.

He needed more.
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Post by Goldglo » Mon Feb 11, 2013 8:12 pm

The wood began to chill in his grasp.

“What do you know about your ancestry, Maggie?” His voice no longer wavered.

Maggie lowered her hand as a flash of sorrow flickered across her face. “Not much. I know who my parents and grandmother were. I know I carry celestial blood. I’ve read what I could from the library about them all.”

Time ran short. Matt raised his sword. The icy cold felt like a corpse in his hand. He signaled they were to begin again, not daring another look toward the cameras. “Continue.”

“I don’t know much more than that except…” she lunged forward, sneaking her sword past his. He grunted as she caught his ribs.

He turned aside, putting distance between them. “Except what?”

She shrugged as if trying to extract some divine truth from a half-forgotten fable before resetting her stance. “I read someplace, in that old part of the library where they look at you funny if you go back there, when I was trying to learn more about my lineage. I’m supposed to tell the truth, the absolute truth; even if it’s something I know nothing about.”

Matt nodded slowly, probing at her defenses. He no longer felt doubt and hesitation. He’d won his battle against them. The war was another matter. He stepped closer, looking to force an opening.

“But,” she frowned, “I can only do it once and I’m not sure when.”

Matt gripped the sword as tightly as he could. A veneer of ice shot up from the hilt along one edge, like poison hungry for its victim.

“I do.”

“You do?” Maggie’s voice was a mixture of curiosity and surprise as she stepped to her left. She dropped the point of her weapon as she began an arcing attack toward his legs.

“Yes,” he answered in a whisper, twisting to his left. She’d given him the opening he needed. She realized her mistake and tried to pull back to defend herself against his attack.

Now lined with a thin layer of razor-sharp ice, the edge of his sword gleamed under the overhead lights as it arced over her parry attempt.

“How d…”

Her question died in the air as the icy edge softly kissed her neck. A thin red line appeared upon her skin, tracing the sword’s path. It bubbled for a moment, like lava threatening to spew forth from a weakened fissure.

Her neck burst open, bathing him in blood.

He could not bear to see the lack of hatred in her eyes, the lack of horror at a betrayal such as this, the lack of wonder at what he’d just done and how. He could not understand her lack of struggle to cling to this life, this gift as she'd described it moments before. She did not clutch at her throat to try and staunch the flow. No scream erupted from her stomach only to die in a futile gurgle. She did not seize him, demand an explanation or attempt to exact revenge in her last moments.

Searching her face, he could only find acceptance as blood gushed from the wound like a newly undammed river. In her eyes he found things he could not comprehend – compassion and acceptance. He knew she understood that her life was over, that he had robbed her of its gift. She offered him little more than a perfect willingness to accept that end, even in a manner such as this. She offered him only her understanding and acceptance that her death came at the hands of this man who watched out for her, who cared for her. A man who had desperately tried to make reparations to her, ones she never wanted nor needed. A man who had in so many flawed and misguided ways tried to be a father to her.

She smiled weakly at him as she lost the ability to stand. She guided herself to the ground. Her hair spilled around her face like ripples on a pond as she lay back on the sand.

He cast aside his sword, its icy edge already melting away in bloodstained drops leaving the wood unblemished. He knelt, unable to speak. Unable to express his sorrow or to curse her for dying as she lived – free from worry, blame and despair. He could acknowledge nothing except the world closing around him, the sticky warmth of her last few breaths as he knelt beside her, the light pressure of her fingers calmly and willingly intertwining in his, the soft hissing of blood pulsing onto sand.

She looked at and through him with eyes a more deep and vibrant green than he ever remembered. As life ebbed away, she squeezed his hand lightly and nodded almost imperceptibly. Did she somehow fathom the reason behind his deed? Did she want him to know he had her permission to follow through? It didn’t matter.

Sweat dripped off of his face and onto the sand. He leaned down, whispering in her ear.

The green in her eyes deepened until the green turned black. He breathed his question as quietly as a shadow.

He turned toward her mouth. Her lips brushed his ear as they parted for the last time.

He kept hold of her hand. He looked into her blackened eyes, now devoid of life. When her body loosed its last breath and her heart ceased beating, a ghostly form of the creature her maternal grandmother's people had guarded for centuries awoke. Maggie's soul, shaped like a unicorn, sprung into the air and faded away.

Slowly he sat up. A few final trickles of blood curved down Maggie’s neck and nestled into the sand. His shoulders slumped forward. He exhibited no outward signs of elation or victory. He felt nothing but defeat and anguish.

When the Sweepers arrived, they found him cradling her as he had once cradled Thia, sixteen years ago.

In each of their reports to The Hub, the one thing each Sweeper recalled more than any other detail – more than the puddles of blood, more than the position of the blunted wood swords, more than the last remnants of haze upon the camera lenses, more than the posture and attitude of the killer himself – the single thing they could never forget and which somehow cracked their hardened hearts, was the soft radiant smile, angelic, delightful and sweet, upon Maggie Harker’s lifeless pale blue face.
Last edited by Goldglo on Thu Oct 03, 2013 6:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Goldglo » Thu Jun 13, 2013 7:53 pm

Will all our sins be justified?

– Sharon den Adel

For months after Sanyumato, chaos and lawlessness reigned throughout the remnants of Rhydin. Those who once may have fought back were too overcome with their own grief or self-pity to mount any sort of resistance. The effectiveness of The Watch, previously dubious at best, evaporated completely. With Rhydin’s government powerless, The Hub began to establish itself as a domineering presence within the city and quickly installed a system of intolerance for criminals. The Hub did not care about the guilt or innocence of the persons it punished; The Hub did, however, carefully ensure the demonstration of public punishment as deterrent. Public executions and mutilations, often transpiring without any sort of trial or examination of evidence, swiftly became the norm. Rhydin’s citizens gratefully and gladly welcomed the restoration of safety and order.

As crime lowered and the punishments became more and more severe, The Hub realized its precarious position. The people should, and likely would, begin to resent The Hub’s draconian methods. Before thankfulness turned to bitterness and anger, The Hub established a plan: disguise its growing oppression with a facade of justice to placate the people. Shortly thereafter, The Hub instituted the Conclave and a system of criminal trials called Inquests. In doing so, The Hub effectively deepened the roots of control – the people were most grateful for the re-establishment of a trial-system and utterly blind to the ruse. The Hub declared that it would appoint wise and important people to the Conclave. The Conclave would issue merit-based punishments for actions deemed improper. Magistrates and ministers of justice would guarantee the integrity and legitimacy of verdicts and sentences. The people were even invited to attend the proceedings to see for themselves!

Careful and judicious in its first few weeks of existence, The Conclave seemed like the perfect solution. The Hub sold itself and the Conclave as the perfect step to re-establishing civil law, to ending the barbarism that had become a post-Sanyumato trademark, to an overjoyed and grateful people – a people longing to regain a sense of their pre-Sanyumato lives – a people too concerned with rebuilding their homes and finding the next meal to recognize the loss of personal freedom or appreciate how much autonomy they’d willingly and enthusiastically given away. By the time the farce of the Conclave was exposed, it was far too late; within a matter of weeks, The Hub’s dominance over Rhydin was too deep to uproot and The Conclave became merciless and expeditious in its punishments. The Hub could and easily did silence any dissenters. Rhydin’s populace, already helpless, found themselves utterly impotent to combat the very institution they’d counted on to resurrect their pride, their city and their lives.

In present times, the name Graxton’s Tongue was synonymous with place where the Conclave assembled. The history of the name’s origination remained murky as over the years, stories devolved into myth. Some claimed that Graxton, one of the first to undergo Inquest by the Conclave, lashed out at what he believed an unfair sentence. Incensed, the Conclave ordered his tongue slowly shredded and then cut out entirely in public for his outrageous insolence. Others asserted Graxton was a convicted prisoner whom the Conclave had sentenced to public execution but who, just after his Inquest ended, so cunningly and eloquently argued the merits of his life that the Conclave reversed his sentence and set him free. Still others believed that Graxton originated the idea of the Conclave, convinced the public of its merits through a series of speeches and conversations, originally chaired the Conclave and currently served as a high-ranking member within The Hub itself.

Most people didn’t care who or what originated Graxton’s Tongue; they only knew they hated it, loathed it, feared it. But they adored the sights and sounds of Inquest. They paraded like ants, pushing and scurrying and clambering over each other for the chance to spectate. The morning after Maggie Harker’s death offered them another opportunity to invest themselves in a system they found simultaneously abhorrent and yet craved as a fleeting distraction, for The Hub scheduled a priority Inquest.

Everyone was invited to attend.
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Post by Goldglo » Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:51 pm

The cracks, the lines from where you gave up
They make an easy man to read
For all the times you let them bleed you
For little peace from God you plead and beg
For little peace from God you plead

– Layne Staley

Several hours after Matt Simon’s capture, as the sun neared its zenith in a bright cloudless sky, the Hub’s latest prisoner stepped into Graxton’s Tongue wedged in between a contingent of five Sweepers. The city, having woken to Hub-issued reports (not to mention the buzz of rumor and conjecture) regarding the prior night’s events in the Arena, wasted no time in clamoring for any available spot in the house. The spectacle of Inquest, much like that of gladiatorial-slave combat, provided a welcome distraction and source of amusement for a population in desperate need of both. As one of the more popular events in Rhydin, Inquest viewing rarely transpired without a scrum over the last few viewing positions in the overcrowded standing-room-only gallery.

A windowless circular room, Graxton’s Tongue received its light from blue-flamed torches, some set upon the dark wooden walls as others dangled from curved beams along the arched ceiling. Prisoners stood in the center of the room, their arms rope-bound in an X (left hand to right-shoulder, right hand to left shoulder). A longer section of rope extended from prisoners’ hands and traveled down their backs where it knotted to a metal chain wrapped around their waists. A second chain just under a meter in length and embedded within a floor-mounted wooden post a meter-and-a-half tall, split into a “Y” and attached to the prisoner’s waist-chain at each hip to further restrict movement.

After guards secured prisoners to the post, members of the Conclave entered and sat in a ring around the wooden post. Since the bound and chained prisoners could not turn around and could only see as far as their necks would crane, they were unable to face or directly address a portion of the Conclave. This intimidating arrangement fell directly in line with The Hub’s methodology: to ensnare and dominate by injecting its subjects with panic and anxiety. Positioned directly in front and above the prisoners, though, lay the viewing gallery – prisoners, unable to view the entirety of the Conclave, did have a plain and unobstructed view of the crowd with its mocking faces, its cruel smiles, and its desire to see someone other than themselves suffer and feel The Hub’s swift wrath. Prisoners found little sympathy or hope to cling to when faced with contempt, scorn and hatred from the gallery while fretting over the reactions of unseen Conclave members who would soon dole out punishment.

Often, members of the Conclave (those who deigned to attend their appointed summons – fewer than half of the Conclave attended most Inquests) appeared bored throughout Graxton’s Tongue proceedings and often dozed right up until the point where they needed to render a judgment. Upon being jostled awake, these members cast their verdict on a whim, not knowing or caring about the substance or circumstances of the matter before them much less the life than hung in the balance. But today, given the circumstances of the prior night’s events and the identity of the prisoner, all twenty-seven Conclave members had assembled for Inquest.

A raucous crowd greeted Matt Simon with jeers the moment he stepped inside Graxton’s Tongue. Its mordant mocking grew louder as he obediently and quietly submitted to the binding process. Conclave members entered and took their seats shortly after Sweepers secured his chains. Each appeared alert and some almost eager to take part in what might transpire in the next few moments and gauged the prisoner’s demeanor for signs of what might transpire. Would his posture and countenance reflect a sense of stoicism? Defiance? Disdain? Would he receive them with a smile, a snarl or indifference?


Members of the Conclave pursed their lips and shook their heads as they murmured into each other’s ears. The prisoner stood with his head bowed, eyes glued to the base of the central post. He did not look up at the scornful crowd nor meet the eyes of any Conclave members within his limited view-field. They had expected more from this man, especially given his background. They would punish him of course, but had desired and frankly expected no less than a rousing defense from a man once known for lengthy speeches and long-winded discourses before doing so. The last thing they anticipated from Matt Simon was resignation and submission. The Conclave’s eagerness and excitement quickly gave way to disappointment. The man before them appeared defeated and broken. With frowns, sighs and several regrets that they’d cut short their individual pleasures for nothing, the Conclave prepared itself for a lackluster Inquest.
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Post by Goldglo » Fri Aug 30, 2013 1:10 am

And I’m wondering why I still fight in this life
Cuz I’ve lost all my faith in this damn bit of strife.
And it’s sad.
It’s so damn sad.

– Sharon den Adel

The din of the crowd softened only when Inquest began. The Accused, Matt Simon, didn’t seem to notice. Grains of sand stuck to his shirt, caught like flies in a spider’s web of dried blood...Maggie Harker’s blood. It caked his clothing. It stained his hands. It drowned his soul.

He stared at the floor, unbearably hot, his mind filled with thoughts and images of his devastated city, shattered life and ravaged family. Dimly, as if in the ebbing echoes of a half-realized dream, he heard the list of charges levied against him in a least-to-most order of severity: Unsanctioned dueling. Murder. Willful defiance of Hub mandates.

Inquests were typically quite animated as Accused engaged in verbal spats with those testifying against them and sometimes even with members of the Conclave who’d bothered to make an appearance. This was no courtroom. There were no lawyers, no technicalities of obscure law, no blind justice. The Conclave simply enforced the requirements of The Hub, however unjust or ruthless. Most everyone believed that the final results of Inquest were determined before Inquest began. Regardless, so desperate for distraction, few cared whether or not Inquest was little more than a show for the sake of public entertainment. Events like this, where Inquest took place in such rapid fashion or with such a well-known person, usually provided the best spectacle of all. But not today.

The Accused remained still and silent as the Conclave interrogated every Sweeper who had come to the Arena the previous night. Rivers of sweat poured from his face. His shirt soaked through as minutes passed and each Sweeper recounted the same tale: arriving at the Arena to find the Accused holding onto the body of Maggie Harker and covered in her blood, the same blood which now stained his clothing. How the Accused offered no resistance when secured by the Sweepers. How he offered no explanation as to his presence in the Arena, the circumstances that lead to Maggie Harker’s death or what he’d done with the weapon that had slit her throat. Lack of a tangible killing weapon offered a small modicum of circumstantial doubt but there was little question in anyone’s mind as to what had taken place.
Several members of the Conclave, bored and quite disappointed with the tedium of proceedings that ought to have at least provoked incensed reactions from the Accused, let their attention wane. Inquiries for the Sweepers became fewer and the responses less detailed, culminating in a question of “Who killed the girl” with the answer merely a careless point in Matt’s direction.

Matt replayed the prior night’s events in his mind as Inquest concluded, focusing upon his question to Maggie and her inexplicable and outrageous reply. A reply which staggered him with confusion and hopelessness. A reply that assured he would be forever entombed within the consequences of his greatest sins. A reply which utterly destroyed every remnant of hope, comfort and restitution Maggie Harker ever wished to bestow upon him. Maggie Harker offered exactly what he’d wanted: Truth. He hadn’t expected that offer to contain nothing but more despair and anguish.

Standing in a puddle of his own secretion and lost in the quagmire of his thoughts, he hardly heard someone from the Conclave ask if he had a statement to make before Judgment. He didn’t care to answer. His life was already forfeit. Judgment would simply serve to formalize his Sanyumato-induced fate. Offering no second chance as a few silent seconds ticked away, the voice ordered the declaration of Judgment.

Without warning, he felt a physical jolt as another voice rang out from the Conclave and interrupted the first, a voice that shot right through his despondent thoughts and dangled, however dangerously, a reminder of what Sanyumato had destroyed but also what still did exist in this post-Sanyumato age.

“…demand you speak! I command it! The Accused will address the Conclave!”

The voice, despite its harshness, was unmistakable. Within its bitter edge and authoritative tone lay a subtle plea, one meant for him and him alone. He squeezed his eyes shut, torn between heeding that plea and allowing fate to finish its course.

Chains rattled lightly as he slowly stood erect. As sluggish and dull as his thoughts had been moments before, his mind now raced with so many ideas and plans that he could hardly formulate one before another took its place. He'd received the voice's message...he could not ignore it. He lifted his head, greeting the members of the Conclave he could see with a feral smile. Above, the frustrated crowd stirred, daring to hope the Accused would finally make their coming worthwhile. Neither they nor the Conclave appreciated the significance of the moment for in that instant, Matt Simon transformed from an emaciated husk to potentially the most dangerous thing The Hub had ever encountered. He had absolutely nothing to lose.

Swallowing, the Accused opened his mouth. His voice reverberated throughout the chamber like that of a well-practiced orator: loud, crisp and sure of itself. Though his statement was benign, he echoed the tone of the familiar faceless voice and dared to issue an order, becoming the first to ever do so when interacting with the Conclave. The tenor of his words was not lost upon the Conclave and several members stirred from their half-slumbers, startled by the assertive attitude and sudden change in the Accused’s demeanor. Those in the crowd and in the Conclave’s circle who could see his face were astonished as savage smile curled into defiant grin when he spoke a second time.

“I said, ask your question again.”
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Post by Goldglo » Tue Oct 01, 2013 7:44 pm

I’ve been walking this road of desire
I’ve been begging for blood on the wall
I don’t care if I’m playing with fire

– Sharon den Adel

Matt wanted nothing more than to wipe away the thickening layer of sweat upon his forehead which traced a path down the bridge of his nose and along his cheekbones. The stifling heat threatened to overwhelm him as perspiration fell from his arms, face and hair. After he issued his command to the Conclave, a murmur immediately rumbled through the crowd like a distant peal of thunder. The Conclave remained silent as the Accused stood patiently, silently willing their obedience. For several seconds, the Conclave remained mute until the voice which had stirred him moments before spoke again. In that brief delay, Matt realized the majority of the Conclave, already sluggish from boredom and rendered mute by his sheer audacity, could not appreciate, understand or react quickly enough to stop him. He now controlled this Inquest, albeit quite precariously.

“Does the Accused wish to make statement in his defense?”

During his time as Rhydin’s Governor, Matt Simon experienced first-hand how easily timing, diction, body language and inflection could turn the tide of a debate or negotiation. The hold over Inquest he’d managed to grasp could slip away in a heartbeat. He could betray no hesitation, no doubt or no weakness. Surprise and audaciousness had won him the opening battle; pushing the envelope even further remained his slim single for success. The crowd leaned forward in eager anticipation as the Accused answered with a bold impudent laugh.

“A statement, yes. In my defense, no…for I have nothing to defend.”

A murmur of shock and confusion now rippled through the crowd and carried through the Conclave itself. Surely this man was insane or suicidal to speak so brazenly. But if suicidal, why speak at all? Death was all but assured with the evidence already presented by the Sweepers.

A tributary of sweat that flowed into his left eye; he blinked it away, altering its course as he attempted to do the same with his fate. Swallowing hard in order to soothe his parched throat, Matt glared at the Conclave members in his line of sight. “You parade Sweeper after Sweeper in here to rehash the same tale in the hopes of what? Piling up a wall of testimony so tall I cannot hope to scale it? I assure you, I have no intention of denying anything the Sweepers told you! You would have saved yourselves much trouble had you simply asked me the same questions you asked them!”

The group of Conclave members in front of him stood in shock, mouths agape. Few had ever spoken so brazenly in Inquest and certainly none who’d done so had lived to see the setting sun.

A voice from behind him, the one which had originally requested his statement of defense, began an angry retort.

“If the Acc…”

“Ah, at least one of them has regained their senses,” Matt thought before he turned an icy stare onto the few Conclave members in sight and interjected an emboldened rebuke.

“The Conclave will hear me without interruption! You people had your chance and you’ve wasted the time of everyone in this room with these asinine proceedings.”

He didn’t pause to await agreement or allow the speaker the opportunity to otherwise respond.

“Yes, I killed Maggie Harker…”

At that, the crowd’s murmur turned into an excited clamor.

“…nd I expect and demand full recognition of that fact from this Conclave!”

There was no turning back now. His life now wholly resided upon precise execution of this hastily crafted plan.

“Does the Conclave agree that Maggie Harker was slain by my hand, as I readily and fully admit?”

The faceless voice answered slowly with a hesitation that betrayed suspicion of a nearly sprung trap.

“The Conclave has no doubt that the Accused killed Maggie Harker. Admission is irrelevant! This Conclave has heard enough! As such, Judg…”

Immediately, Matt raised his voice into a shout. He could not let the speaker, who he now assumed was the Conclave’s Phríomh – its leader – rally the Conclave from its stupor and silence him. The Phríomh would not have ascended to his station without an uncanny ability to sense guile or the skill to combat it.

“Judgment will wait!”

The Phríomh did not reply.

Matt nodded toward the Conclave members in sight. “Each of you can see this blood on my clothes and my skin. You acknowledge, as I do, it belongs to Maggie Harker. You acknowledge, as I do, that I killed her! Let there be no doubt amongst any of you! Maggie Harker perished by my hand and mine alone.”

Looking up toward the crowd, he continued, “Many of you knew, or at least were familiar with, young Maggie. She was one of the brightest and best things about this city, in my life. I’ve taken her away from each of you and from myself. But I did so not out of malice or out of anger.”

Lowering his gaze back to the Conclave, Matt swallowed again before his voice resonated throughout the chamber.

“I did it…because Maggie asked me to.”
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Post by Goldglo » Thu Oct 03, 2013 6:56 pm

Unsure at first of whether to heap anger or sympathy upon the Accused, another round of muttering rolled through the crowd. The Maggie Harker they knew was not insane; she would never willingly ask for death! The Accused was surely lying. The murmuring grew louder and Matt quickly continued in the hopes of curbing the crowd’s rapidly growing ire.

“I see your frowns and I too feel your sadness! I’ve known Maggie Harker ever since she was born. I knew her family…before.”

At the simple mention of the pre-Sanyumato era, Matt found himself overcome with a sudden wave of emotion nearly as intense as the overpowering heat in the room. He fought to keep his composure; he could not falter now.

Quickly, he looked up toward the crowd. Their collective countenance and posture suggested their fury could way to empathy.

“Maggie Harker was like a daughter…” A well-timed sob escaped his throat. The crowd’s anger dissipated further.

“Sanyumato took everything from me. Everything! Maggie gave me solace, she gave me…more than I can ever explain. I will always love her for that. I would do anything for her. She need only ask.”

He licked his lips. Salty sweat burned hot on his tongue.

“Maggie came to me asking for help in the Arena. She’d been struggling and recently dropped rank in the Standings. She looked to me for help. While reckless, her proposal was not utterly unwise. The only way to improve, she felt, was to fight with her own life on the line. Maggie felt that knowing death was only a misstep away would force her to fight with newfound intensity and vigor; such circumstances would, she believed compel improvement.”

He let out a small sigh and shook his head.

“The hazards were obvious. I attempted to dissuade her but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. I agreed to do things her way. I thought I could keep her safe. I did not…”

Matt paused for effect, clearing his throat and lowering his voice.

“…I did not think it would truly result in her death.”

Enraptured, the crowd eagerly drank in the narrative. The Conclave remained silent.

“We arranged to meet the next time Wards failed in the Arena. Last night, the black flags unfurled once dueling hours commenced. I was the official on duty the entire night. I performed the Ward Test. I slew the animal in the Pen, confirming the Wards’ absence. Everyone who came to the Arena saw the flags and either departed immediately or left after a couple of drinks. Maggie arrived late, just as I was finishing the sand replacement in the Ward Test Pen…as required by Hub protocol.

He made sure to emphasize those last words. He was in the midst of a dangerous game,trying to set the Hub’s own rules, rules the Conclave were obliged to uphold, in his favor. But the events of the prior night, outside of Maggie’s bewildering answer, were a jumbled blur. He fought to remember exactly what he’d done and when. Though he’d obscured the lenses of the Arena’s surveillance cameras, he hadn’t been able to neutralize their audio receptors. The Conclave, of course, must have examined those recordings before Inquest. His timeline had to match with whatever the Conclave had already heard. One misspoken word or a single out of place detail could cost him everything.

His mind raced, torn between piecing together the prior night’s blur and manipulating the sympathies of the crowd and to the extent he could, the Conclave in his favor.

“Maggie refused to duel me with anything but a wooden training sword. She had no desire to harm me you see, no wish to kill me. Nor I, her! I took a sword from the same training rack and used IceDancer to edge the weapon per our agreement. My blade thus became deadly. Hers remained not. We engaged for a few minutes and took a short break. When we resumed, I engaged her in conversation. I wanted to see how she’d handle the added distraction. But…as careful as I was…”

His momentary pause for effect proved a disastrous mistake. Seizing the opportunity, the Phríomh broke in.

“The Accused tells a tragic tale, yet it changes nothing. The Accused admits to murder. The charges still stand and this Conclave will render Judgment!”

The domineering authority in the Phríomh’s voice, spoken with practiced ease, wholly severed the emotional link Matt had so carefully struggled to establish with the crowd. He saw several heads nodding in agreement with the Phríomh as both crowd and Conclave shifted their attention from the Accused to their chairman.

The Phríomh’s reasserted control over Graxton’s Tongue was absolute.

Judgment was at hand.
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Post by Goldglo » Fri Oct 11, 2013 5:58 pm

I choose to live and to lie, kill and give and to die, learn and love and to do what it takes to step through.

– Maynard James Keenan

The anger in the Phríomh’s voice was almost tangible. Matt could only imagine the depths of seething red in the man’s contorted face.

The Phríomh cleared his throat and continued, “The Accused must answer for his offenses. As Judgment, this Conclave decrees a se…”

Suddenly, the Phríomh’s voice erupted into a loud burst of coughing that echoed throughout the chamber. Matt leapt at the opportunity to exploit the unexpected opening and shouted with an air of urgent exasperation, “Yes, yes, the charges. None of them are applicable here! Let’s deal with them directly, shall we?”

The coughing began to subside but the Phríomh apparently remained unable to speak. Matt didn’t question his good fortune.

“First of all, Unsanctioned dueling. Technically yes, I grant that dueling hours were over by the time Maggie and I began our duel. However, it’s well known by this body and the Hub that calling staff constantly remain past their scheduled shifts to oversee duels. No Arena caller has ever been punished or Judged for such behavior; Sweepers do not descend upon the Arena to seize callers who remain past their shifts or imprison duelers who fight after the hour’s turn. On several occasions, I myself have overseen duels involving Hub officials and off-duty Sweepers that began after posted hours. Each of those duels was recognized as Sanctioned and certified as such by the Hub’s Standings Keepers!

I was the official on duty last night. And yes, I overstayed my own shift as I have many times before without question. I contend that my duel with Maggie was therefore legitimate and Sanctioned! This Conclave can of course decide otherwise. However, to do so would affirm that the Hub has failed to uphold the strict letter of its decrees and that every after-hours duel involving anyone associated with the Hub was indeed illegal and Unsanctioned. Further, such Judgment would render culpable the Hub-approved Standings Keepers who would then become complicit in approving Unsanctioned dueling by ratifying the associated records and Standings lists! This Conclave will have a lengthy line of prisoners to Judge if you find me guilty of Unsanctioned dueling…and some of you may just be in that line yourselves.”

With a brash smile, he looked up toward the crowd who seemed to agree with his assessment. But the slight movement caused him to expend more effort than expected. Matt realized just how quickly his strength ebbed as his body continuously shed fluid in the sweltering heat.

“Look, we all know that extended shifts have absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of the rules governing Sanctioned and Unsanctioned dueling. If this Conclave wishes to stand against years-long precedence – precedence upheld and outright supported by the Hub via its constant participation in after-hours dueling – that is of course your right. I do, though, question the wisdom of doing so and wonder how long each of you would remain part of this body after taking such a disrespectful and ill-advised stance.”

Though he could not specifically pick out the Phríomh’s voice in the Conclave’s muffled deliberations, he could see concerned looks and hear the worried tones of several Conclave members who did not seem overly eager to point out a possible Hub oversight.

“Secondly…the charge of murder. Laughable! If this Conclave recognizes the duel between Maggie and myself as Sanctioned, which it must, then no murder took place. She died in the same way as one-hundred-twenty-nine duelers before her…in a Ward Free match where lives were knowingly at risk. Maggie Harker was no murder victim! She was a willing participant in the Arena’s blood-games! That she died is tragic, yes. Do not compound that tragedy! To label her a victim is to strip away her honor as a dueler and desecrate her memory. Maggie walked into that ring with her eyes wide open. She knew what could happen, as did I. I killed Maggie Harker. I did not murder her. I recognize and celebrate that she died a warrior’s death. She deserves at least that much from you. Place her name upon the Killboard and let her name and her blood forever remain part of the Arena!”

The Conclave grew restless. The crowd above remained unsure how to react to the growing tension within Graxton’s Tongue. Matt’s throat grew raw and his voice began to crack.

“Finally, willful defiance of Hub mandates.” Matt shook his head as if in disbelief. “The most serious charge of all…and the most illegitimate! What mandates, I ask you, have I defied? I fulfilled my Arena duties to the letter. I performed the Ward Test. The black banners hung. I waited through my shift while everyone who arrived declined to fight. I replaced the sands in the Ward-Test Pen as my shift drew to a close. I participated in a Sanctioned Ward-Free duel, specifically requested by my opponent, wherein she lost her life. I did not resist the Sweepers in any way...”

Matt shook his chains violently before shouting, “…I have followed Hub mandates to the letter! None of you can possibly deny that unless you willfully overlook the undeniable truth I speak! To call me a liar and to punish me now will openly declare to the Hub and to every citizen of Rhydin that this Conclave is nothing more than a rogue body that follows its own whims! Willful defiance of Hub mandates? This Conclave risks doing that very thing in rendering Judgment against me after what you’ve learned here.”

He laughed scornfully. “The Hub would not tolerate such defilement of its policies. None of you would last the day.”

His mouth dry as water continued to leak from his pores, Matt found himself unable to swallow. His head swam with dizziness. He would not last much longer in this state. Desperate, he dug for reserves which he’d ignored for years. His body had grown lazy and unable to wholly rely upon itself for regular function. Despite his voice nearly giving way and his body begging him to conserve every remaining ounce of energy, Matt forced himself to continue.

“This Conclave knows what I say is credible. Everyone in this room knows I speak the truth! You know Judgment is unfounded and unwarranted. The Conclave has already agreed that I slew Maggie Harker. I have clearly explained that her death was no murder and that I followed all required Hub protocol both in my capacity as Arena official and as willing participant in a Ward-Free duel. There is simply no other reasonable explanation for what took place last night. You seek guilt where none exists. You levy Judgment where none is needed. In light of these indisputable facts – for if you could impugn them you’d have done so long before now – I require the following. One: as I am the closest thing Maggie Harker had to family in this cursed city, I hereby assert a Next of Kin claim and petition the Hub to grant me the unfettered possession of her belongings. Two: I claim the Champion’s Purse, earned when Maggie Harker fell to my blade. I exepect prompt issuance of my prize! Third: I direct this Conclave to adhere to the rules and laws governing the Arena, rules I have followed and which you overtly and willfully snub with this irresponsible proceeding! I demand my immediate release from these chains! Do this now, or by God I’ll see each one of you Judged myself!”

As the room exploded in uproar, the feral grin returned to Matt’s features. With his last remaining strength, he adopted a smug and sure posture, all the while praying his legs wouldn’t buckle as he awaited the Conclave’s next move.

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