“Contrary to what the peasantry may believe, Naharnas is not some blighted landscape filled with barren fields and the crumbling, deserted ruins of towns, forever hidden from the face of the sun. Its soil is fertile. Its cities are proud and elegant. Rain, snow and sun fall with equal measure upon its mountains, grasslands and deserts. And for all this, it is in every way an abomination to Blessed Ambre, Goddess of Life.”
-the teachings of Inquisitor Samiel Drau
The rope snapped taut.
“Enough. I have heard enough evidence, enough proof of what you’ve done. I can stomach no more. It is the judgement of this court that you are guilty of all charges. Do you have anything to say in your defence?”
Sardilla was often referred to as the strong right hand of the Dynasty. Its martial heritage ensured that even in peacetime, its many legions were honed to a fierce fighting edge. Save for the Dynasty’s own Shiraku Guard, there were very few armies upon Baston as feared as a Sardillan phalanx.
“If there is anything you would have us hear, now is the time to make your words known.”
The destruction they visited upon their enemies was legendary, even horrifying. When Sardilla roused itself to war, every nation upon its borders trembled, all too aware of the ruthless efficiency – some would say savagery – that the nation was capable of. But savagery was too neat a word for what happened when Sardilla’s legions turned upon their own people. Sardilla. A civilized, prosperous nation thrown into anarchy and barbarism faster than any had believed possible, torn in half as armies slaughtered one another, as men and women were put to the sword by the thousands in one of the most brutal conflicts ever known. All because of one man.
“Have you nothing to say? No apologies to the many widows and orphans you’ve left in your wake? No justifications, no excuses for your crimes?”
The trial lasted only a few short days. The Dynasty had wanted to be thorough. Its limitless armies had already proved its military dominance over Sardilla, a nation burned and gutted by the fires of civil war. Now it had wanted to show the populace that its word was law, that its decrees were absolute and its justice inescapable. But even the Dynasty’s magistrates had their limits and on the third day, the chief magistrate called a halt to the proceedings, leveling a finger shaking with rage at the prisoner.
“An entire province burns because of you – thousands lay dead at your feet. How many met their end on your sword, how much blood stains your soul? And you stand here, among us as if you were a man and not a monster, as if you deserve the benefit of this trial. You are forever tainted – what have you to offer in your defence, what can possibly excuse your crimes?”
Everything I did, I did for you. There was silence from the prisoner’s dock, as there had been during the entire trial. He hadn’t said a word since his arrest, since the Dynasty’s Manhunters had found him bloody and defeated, kneeling amidst the carnage and ruins of his latest conquest, staring at his hands, his once-gleaming armour stained a sickening red. At his feet lay his final victim. She’d seemed so small, almost like a doll. As if there hadn’t been anything to her.
“You have nothing to say? No speeches to offer us, none of the words that so inspired your men to burn and slaughter the innocent in your name, no appeals to make on your own behalf?”
I searched for you, I did. I tore that keep apart. The manacles on his wrists bit into his skin, blood welling up around them.
“Speak! Speak, damn you!”
And still he refused to, denying them their fun, their chance to see him beg or try to justify his crimes. Finally, the magistrate had had enough, handing down the inevitable verdict, the climax that this entire farce had been building towards. He wondered if… no. That was just one more futile hope. There was nothing waiting for him. Everything he had done, he had done for but one reason and in his rage, he had destroyed even that.
“In this life or the next, there is no punishment too harsh, no judgment too stern for the sins you’ve committed, for the lives you’ve ended, for what you’ve brought about. You are hereby sentenced to death by hanging and may Ambre Herself speak on your behalf, for surely no one else will.”
The crowd shrieked every curse imaginable as he was led to the gallows. He ignored them, as silent as he had been since his capture. The hangman fitted the noose around his neck as the magistrate droned on, a litany of his sins. He looked out into the crowd, a sea of indistinct howling faces, each twisted in jeering fury. And amidst them…
He saw her. She smiled gently and waved to him, blowing him a mocking kiss. Her lips moved, repeating the words that he’d convinced himself he’d imagined, that he’d invented to justify what he’d done, why they’d found her crumpled lifelessly at his feet, her throat crushed, the blood on his gauntlets staining her fair skin.
He screamed. Not in words, not in anything mortal ears could hear, but his soul screamed, crying out for vengeance, for just one more to die by his hands. Just one more. I did it all for you! he howled. All for her. And now… now he wanted nothing more than to take it all back, to-
The rope snapped taut.