Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sins of the Sister, Part 1

From the confession of Cara Gray'on:



It began with three members of the Watch - two boys and a girl - beating a boy in the street. Tensions between the Watch and the Templars had forced me to turn a blind eye to these sights more often than not, but this time I knew something was terribly wrong. Maybe it was because the figure on the ground just lay there, not crying out. Perhaps it was the expressions of the small crowd that had gathered, standing between the cobbled together merchant stalls or overhead on the bridges between the upper levels of the crumbling sky towers.

"What exactly is going on here?" I said, my voice echoing off the stone buildings around us.

Two of the them looked up at me, eyes widening when they saw I was a Templar, and clumsily stopped mid-blow or kick. The third was so focused on kicking the person on the ground, the girl had to grab his arm and pull him away.

"He...he killed a Joanite Blade..." The girl said in a quavering voice. She couldn't have seen more than 16 summers, barely old enough to raise a sword.

It was then I saw the Joanite laying face down just a few paces away, blood slowly seeping from underneath her body into the dirt. Her sword was sheathed and a bloodied blade rested on the ground nearby. I looked down at the crumpled form of her alleged attacker expecting to see a Squat or perhaps one of the Fallen. To my surprise I saw Robbo.

Robbo was a simpleton, the son of an Evan family living just outside of Bazaar. Evans put disfigured children to death, as was the custom of all of the Tribes, but sometimes it took a few summers for any problems to become obvious. Children able to work were spared. Robbo was one of those children, incredibly strong and hearty but unable to speak and only able to understand the simplest commands. Instead of an ox, his mother had him draw a wagon full of crops and other provisions to Bazaar so she could barter for other goods. His mother was harsh with him but not cruel, and Robbo always had a smile for everyone and everything. Many were uncomfortable around him despite his kind and gentle spirit. The few words he spoke were always prophecies of death and ill-fortune. Despite this, until that morning he had always seemed harmless.

"Who is this?" I asked, taking a step toward the Joanite lying on the ground. I know this armor, I thought. Please, don't let it be her.

"We...we do not know." The girl answered, lowering her eyes to avoid my gaze.

Of course she wouldn't know. Both of us were from the Tribe of Joan, but lived in different worlds. I stood tall in full armor adorned with medallions, prayer strips and inscribed sigils, a sword blessed by Joan herself at my side. The three children wore ill-fitting leather jerkins and bore weapons hardly suitable for training, much less common use. They had never faced Squat savages or fetid unholy monstrosities made of the corpses of their own brethren. Such things were little more than fables to them. Their enemies were thieves, miscreants, political opponents, undesirables.

I knelt down next to the woman and slowly turned her over. My stomach tightened as I brushed the hair from her face. Oh Nyeda, what could have happened? I thought. Last I heard she had been on the Seven Fingers planning a raid into No Man's Land. What business did she have in Bazaar? Clearly she was taken unawares. The blade had penetrated her plate and shattered and shattered the mail underneath. Robbo certainly had the strength to do this, but where he would have gotten a sword or even known how to use it? I placed two fingers to my lips and then to hers before standing.

"Did you see the boy do this?" I asked, my back still to the three of them.

"N...no..." the girl replied.

"We came when that merchant called for the Watch," one of the boys said, his voice more confident than hers. "He was kneeling beside her. The merchant said he had done it."

"Did he threaten you?"

"No, he was on the ground, sitting beside her..." I could hear the puzzlement in his voice.

"So you began beating a simpleton, on the word of another?"

"It...it is our duty as the Watch..."

Anger and grief washing over me, and I nearly lost control. The River of Dream responded to the rush of emotions, rippling the air around me like an invisible flame. All three of the youths stepped backward in fear. The youngest boy began to shake uncontrollably, a wet spot growing on his breeches.

"It is your duty to watch." I shook my head, trying to clear any rash thoughts before they became something more. "You three are but children...we may as well let Agnites keep the peace. Were you even intending to arrest him? Question him?  Or were you content with just killing him and denying Joan the right to justice?" None would meet my gaze. Robbo remained curled up on the ground, his arms wrapped tightly around his head, not making a sound. He was still breathing, at least for the moment.

The confrontation had attracted a larger audience and more attention. Two large Joanites pushed through the front ranks, followed closely by a rotund Evan man. He strode forward purposefully, a multitude of beaks and claws clattering against his raptor skull topped staff, a feathered cloak marking his station as Shaman of Eva. Shaman Storm Cry.

"Storm Cry," I said dryly, rising to my feet. He huffed from exertion and scowled at me, dabbing at his face with a finely woven cloth. Even with the morning chill, sweat glistened on his bald head. My disdain for him and his political maneuverings were extremely well known. He and the the Tera Sheban Judge Cylix Seth'on were turning the Watch into their own private army of thugs. An Evan, no matter how powerful, had no right meddling in the affairs of Joan.

"Please tell me you have not interfered with the Watch performing their duty, Cara Gray'on," He said. "What is going on here?"

"The only thing I interfered with was your breakfast, Shaman," I replied. He was a hand shorter than me, but outweighed me by at least ten stone. "I merely stopped these three from beating this boy to death."

He ignored the jibe and looked down at Robbo with obvious disgust. "What was his crime?"

"I see no crops or livestock here. His crime was against Joan, not Eva."

"This is a matter for the Watch," Storm Cry admonished me. His tone made the blood rush to my cheeks. "Now you," he pointed to the girl. "Tell me what happened."

"A merchant called out for the Watch. When...when we arrived we found this Joanite dead, and this boy next to her. There is a sword..."

"And then what happened?"

"They started beating him," I interjected.

"It is the Watch's duty to keep the peace. If they witnessed this boy strike down one of Joan's Chosen warriors..."

"We..we didn't..." The girl looked close to tears, glancing furtively between the two of us. Her resolve was beginning to crumble as the situation sunk in.

"None of them actually saw the attack take place," I said. "Nyeda Morth'on was a daughter of Joan. Judgement on her murderer shall be passed by Tera Sheba, and no other, as is Joan's right and Her will. I have more standing in this matter than you, Shaman. No Joanite will betray honor or oath by taking the Law into their own hands."

Storm Cry raised his voice, making sure all could hear him. "Her attacker could have been Fallen, and there may be more of them! The Watch must ensure the safety of everyone!" I made note of the two fully armed and armored Joanite warriors standing behind him. Luther'ons, both of them. The Luther'on clan was prominent and intensely steadfast in their allegiance to the Watch. Regardless they were still Joanites, and I was still their Templar.

I was about to respond when a woman, sobbing uncontrollably, freed herself from the crowd and ran toward us. I was sure it was Robbo's mother. One of the Luther'ons lunged forward, knocking her to the ground with the pommel of his sword and bringing the tip of the blade to the back of her neck. It must have been too much for the young girl, who screamed and fled down the street without looking back. The second Luther'on drew his sword and started to run after her. The crowd erupted into cries of panic and anger, and the situation looked as if it would spiral out of control.

I yelled "NO!" and mentally opened the floodgate to the River Dream. A torrent of Synthesis rippled down my arm, my sword leaping from its scabbard like a silver fish. The flat of the blade caught the first Luther'on square across the chest with a thunderous clap, throwing him back a good twenty paces. I thrust my other arm toward the second Joanite, palm outward. The warrior slammed into the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of him. Everything and everyone froze, the only sound Robbo's mother softly sobbing. The boy remained perfectly still, but for the briefest moment I swore I saw Nyeda stir.

"How dare you strike my personal guard? Arrest her, NOW!" Storm Cry roared. Both Luther'ons remained on the ground, dazed. The two remaining Watch backed away from me, their eyes white with fear. Stymied, Storm Cry stammered, his voice shrill. "I...I..will have you Banished for this insolence! All of you!"

I returned my sword to its scabbard, feeling disconnected and distant after the release of Synthesis. Conflict rippled through the River, opening a conduit to Joan, and Her will rose within me. "The Daughters of Joan are not yours, Shaman Storm Cry. Your hubris has gone too far. You may be Eva's Chosen, but Cara Gray'on is my Arm and my Blade. I will strike down your lapdogs where they stand should they be dishonored."  My mouth formed the words, but Joan's voice echoed off the buildings.

"You will regret this." His voice trembled, defiant even in the face of Joan's voice. "You do not know..."

"ENOUGH! Your business is done here." The sun broke through the clouds, creating swirling wings of shadow around me that lengthened to darken Storm Cry's face. "The boy will return to the Watchtower, and you will go back to Sanctuary until Tera Sheba has words with Eva about this." Without another word Storm Cry walked away, shoving his way through the crowd. His Fatima had not come to his aid; Eva obviously had deferred to Joan in the matter. Joan left me as soon as she had come, and it was all I could do to keep from falling to my knees.

"Thank you, Templar," Robbo's mother choked out between sobs. She was kneeling on the ground near Robbo, her head down. A tiny drop of blood blossomed on her neck where the blade's point had touched it. I felt sorrow for her, but no remorse for what I needed to do.

"Return to your village," I said quietly. "Robbo's fate is in Tera Sheba's hands now."

She looked up at me, her mouth twisted in a wordless cry of anguish as she shook her head, then buried her face in her hands. I motioned to two Evans standing at the front of the crowd, who gently helped her up and led  her away. The crowd had already begun to disperse, murmuring about what they had just witnessed. By nightfall word would spread throughout all of Vimary, if not further.

"You," I said, motioning to the boys and the Luther'ons. "Find a cart, so we can get Nyeda and this boy back to Joan's Tower."