The Sword Path
"He's not Humakti"

The Sword Bridge

Freezeday, Illusion week, Fire season - night

He dreamed that he stood in a shadowy Court,
Where the Snark, with a glass in its eye,
Dressed in gown, bands, and wig, was defending a pig
On the charge of deserting its sty.


Abul has been walking for a long time, along that dark road. The pursuing demon had given up, miles back, hours, perhaps even days ago, for it is hard to judge distance or time here.

The path into the mountains had gone up, down, through valleys and passes, down chasms, through deep caves where mysterious signs had been painted on the walls that meant little or nothing to his conscious mind, but that he somehow knew were ancient beyond comprehension. He had walked alongside deep underground rivers, and out into what was not really daylight. Now an archway lies ahead of him, a door way through a castle wall perhaps, but if so, scaled for giants, not for men. In the centre, far above his head, a great sword, fit for an ancient hero, hangs on a chain, and he must pass under it to proceed.

Impressed, Abul walks under the archway. Everything is so like to what he was taught that it is somehow reassuring. Looking at the sword above him, he feels compelled to prove his devotion to himself. Kneeling like the old western knights on the Carmanian tapestries, he places himself exactly under its edge, draws his own Humakt-blessed sword and, brow against its hilt, he prays... He prays to Turos the Great to give him Strength, he prays to Bentus to bring him Joy, he prays to Bisos to protect his father Jamal, he prays to Karmanos to protect everyone against the Lie, he prays to the Hum'Akt to destroy Evil and he prays to Her'ward to guide him safely. Looking above him to see the blade pointing at him, he has one last feeling of remorse and he prays to all the gods to take specific and positive attention to Yenda, the one near whom he felt so free of his own fears...

Eventually he stands, and continues through the doorway and the long stone corridor that lies beyond it, emerging on the far side of the great wall. He finds himself entering a huge amphitheatre - an arena, perhaps? Rings of benches for the audience surround it, and the steps leading down from where he stands to the arena floor go past these benches, but the people sitting on them are unclear to him, perhaps because they are so unimportant in comparison to what lies before him. A great throne stands at the centre, and on it sits King Karmanos in judgement, surrounded by his advisors, just as Abul had always imagined him.

A herald beckons him to approach.

Abul takes a few steps forward and bows respectfully as he was trained both by his natural father's family of entertainers and later by his adoptive father Jamal al'Kathoum. Then he walks down the rest of the flight of steps, and across to the centre of the "arena", and remains standing straight and attentive, ready to serve any request or obey any order.

Thunder Rebels
The Fate of the Dead
When a person dies, his soul goes to a place that is between the worlds of the Gods and of Mortals. That place is the Path of the Dead, a transitional zone of silence and ghosts. It usually takes a week for the spirit to walk the path, led by the Guide of the Dead. At the end is the Court of Silence, the realm of Havan Vor, “Mortal Judge.” This is a title of Grandfather Life, who was the first person to die, and afterwards was known as Grandfather Mortal.
At the Court of Silence, Havan Vor scrutinizes every person before sending them to the proper heaven or hell. The souls can not speak. Ancestors and sometimes even gods step forward to present evidence about the individual’s life, each of them trying to get the soul into their own realm. Those who are godless are particularly vulnerable to demons and evil gods, for they have no protector to speak for them. Havan Vor listens to all the evidence and makes his judgement. The soul then departs from the Court of Silence through one of the Nine Doors.....

Meanwhile, the rest of the Tenth, and perhaps others, are not having the peaceful dreamless sleep they might have hoped for. Each of them finds themselves watching, as a distant observer, what seems to them to be a court of judgement. Jamal sees King Karmanos in court, and no doubt it appears much to him as it does to Abul, though from a different perspective. Those from an Orlanthi background see Havan Vor presiding over the Court of Silence, with the Nine Doors behind him.

Graylor looks on in wonder at the court scene. At first he considers the possibility that he is dead but it is not him in the centre. So what is he doing here? The last thing he remembers was being at Abul's vigil before falling asleep. That must be it! Humakt only allows the dreams he permits, this must be something that Humakt wants him to see. Relaxing a bit he looks more closely and realises that he is in the witness area of the court, the innermost ring of seating, and he is to the left of the supplicant, making him a witness for the supplicant. Good, now if he could only see the supplicant properly.

The herald bows to the presiding judge, whoever it may be. "My lord, this is Abul al'Kathoum, a young Hazar. Or it may be Abul son of Kimiss, of Kenderos, a Pelandan, or possibly Kovis Melch'Abukk, of Spol."

"For such a little guy he has an impressive string of names." Graylor thinks to himself. He settles down to listen to the proceedings and act his part when called for. Whilst in the back of his mind Graylor wonders how this will interfere with Irnar's attempt to have Abul resurrected. Another part of his mind realises that this is very early. Isn't the journey to the Courts of Silence supposed to take seven days? It can't be more than seven hours since Abul's death!

"So I see." The judge's all-seeing eyes scrutinize Abul - Kovis - and he knows that he can hide nothing. "By which of those names does he wish to be judged?"

Abul's voice is frozen - with fear? He finds himself unable to speak out boldly, as he might wish, but can manage a quiet whisper, in a voice audible only to the herald.

Being able to even whisper is already a miracle with a doubly-cut throat, Abul states finally, "Please... call me... Abul, adopted son of Jamal al'Kathoum... It is by this name that I was known after my initiation to adulthood... although this period has been quite short, the other names are for other times still wrapped in mystery for me."

The herald nods, and turns back to the judge. "He wishes to be judged as Abul al'Kathoum, my lord."

"Very well. Of the Hazar caste, then."

He looks round at the audience.

Speak, and so shall he be judged.

Has Abul al'Kathoum, in his short life, behaved as a Hazar should?
Has he been honourable?
Has he shown pride in his lineage, his country, his accomplishments?
Has he held true to his principles, without the weakness of compromise or hesitation?
Has he been honest, speaking nothing but Truth?
Has he fought bravely?
Has he obeyed the orders of his Shah, and other superiors?
Has he shown the behaviour of a true knight, defending the weak and those in need?"

Graylor waits a moment, not sure of the correct protocol. Since nobody else seems to be speaking he stands and addresses the court.

"I don't know the protocols of this court, but if I may be permitted to speak for Abul on those matters that I have knowledge. I don't know what rank or status Shah represents, however, I can address this court as Abul's direct superior in Herewards Legion. My name is Graylor Bladedancer."

"In the time that I have known him Abul has always acted honourably. Indeed he has sought out the most honourable of gods to follow. Herw'Ard the Sword Prophet, who teaches that honour is the path and not just the goal. While he has been in my command he has embodied this to the full. Indeed he stands here, now because of it. His bravery too is beyond question. His final battle illustrates this best. He was surprised by the sudden materialisation of six four-armed darkness demons round him. He never faltered or cried out in fear, though we knew that he feared demons of the dark the most. He calmly killed the first and injured the second before the other four could get to him. These were foes well beyond his normal capability, it took groups of us to subdue each of the others.

"As to the truth, he has quested in the footsteps of Here'Ward to magically enhance his own natural inclination to speaking nothing but the truth. He has willingly followed all orders that I have known him receive."

Egil steps forward and kneels before the judge, "Lord, I have known Abul al'Kathoum only a little while. Therefore I cannot offer answers to all of your questions but I can offer answers to a few. In short the answer to all of the questions is yes, but in more detail here is what I know of him.

"He has been as honourable as any Herewardi I have known. He has not murdered or killed any by sleight or deceit that I know of. It was his life to follow the strange ways of Carmanians, even following their preference for giving the Lord Humakt a strange sounding name, but not a disrespectful one.

"As I say I have not known him long so do not know if what his principles might have been, but he seemed to be as straight as a new forged blade to me.

"Has he been honest? Yes, I know this as Hu has blessed me and allows me to see through the deceits of others. Even though he never always cloaked his words delicately he never lied that I knew.

"Has he fought bravely? Yes, that is what led him here. In his last battle I told him to flee to safety while I held up the enemy. He chose not to go for this option and safety but instead joined the fray with me. This ultimately led to his doom.

"He obeyed his seniors officers that I saw, even in the face of threats and anger from those who should have known better.

"This man was a true knight of Hereward. He stayed to help me survive despite knowing that I disliked him for carrying out a task he never asked to do. I would offer my prayers to you to let him pass safely into Humakt's Halls."

As he finishes Egil stands and steps back into the ranks of the witnesses.

"Two have spoken for Death, and have been heard. Who will speak for Life, to balance them? Who will speak for Light, and who for Darkness? For there must be balance in all things."

Yenda feels compelled to speak and stands up. "I will speak for Life. It is often said in our culture that death works for life as life works for death. Abul enjoyed life to the full. He knew when to be serious and when to have fun. He never complained about his lot in life, but worked hard to make it better. He faced his fears and tried his best to overcome them. Even if, in the end his fears were real and not imagined. Still, he faced those and fought bravely protecting others. In all aspects of our relationship he has behaved as a true knight, with gentleness and courtesy. His conversation never strayed from the appropriate, as he was taught, subjects for the time of the day or night."

As each person rises and speaks, others see them not as their mundane selves, for this is the heroplane, perhaps even the Godplane, and seeing the faces behind the roles is hard, even when you know who they must be. The name spoken are hard tio hear, hard to hold in memory for more than a fraction of a second. Abul sees Graylor, for instance, as his commanding officer as a Hazar should be dressed, for he speaks as his Shah, while others see him as a "generic" Humakti Ten Thane, his face a blur. Egil appears as a warrior of The Hum'Akt to Abul, as an Orlanthi Humakti to others. Since Yenda speaks for Life, not as a warrior, she is seen by all as a pretty girl, without armour or weapons - a young Carmanian maiden, in Abul's eyes.

The next speaker to appear is small, dark, creeping, whining, and is intercepted by the Herald, who bends down to it, listens to the whimpering, then stands and addresses the Judge. "This one claims to speak for Darkness. It says that Abul al'Kathoum has not defended the weak - this one being weak - but has hurt it. It appears to speak the truth as it understands it."

Egil stands and ahems quietly. "In this man's defence I should say the trollkin was not mistreated. He was part of, or at least attached to, an military organisation. To function in an efficient manner, strict rules must be applied. Abul merely laid these strictures upon the trollkin, who may have been unwilling to take them. It does not show cruelty, rather it shows kindness, as a force that acts with great discipline is likely to have more survivors at the end of a battle than a wild rabble."

The Judge nods. "That is the way of the Hazar. Dismiss the creature."

The Herald shoos the trollkin away - quite gently at first, then with a kick when it becomes too persistent.

There is a pause, and then the air near the Herald swirls and darkens, as something else starts to appear. What solidifies is black, humanoid, with a barbed tail, a fanged mouth, orange swirls where the eyes should be, and... two arms? The Herald, to his credit, does not step back.

None here have heard a Jukhar speak before, but the hissing is entirely comprehensible (and apparently in the native language of each listener).

"I speak for Darkness. I say that this child is of Darkness, knows the ways of Darkness well, and fights well. Fights too well." The creature looks down at the stumps of its own missing limbs. "He is worthy of us. He is ours."

Santhis is outraged at this statement. "He is not yours. All followers of the heroes of Humakt know the ways of darkness for death was born in darkness and long was it concealed there. But heroes of Humakt like Hereward are also followers of light. If he knows the ways of darkness better than most then it is through self preservation. You and your ilk have hounded him since birth at the behest of others no doubt, so return to your master or mistress and plead for your existence. They will not be pleased at your failure. Abul is not of the dark because he chooses to be of the light. In the end it is our choices that make us who we are, not what might have been."

The hiss is malevolent, now. "I do not return at your command."

"No, you do so at the command of this Court." The Judge's authority is unquestionable. "The Court judges, not you, and the Court has heard you. Now go."

Santhis looks to Graylor. "Is it over? Does the fact that the two speakers for darkness have been dismissed mean that our arguments have won? Ad what does winning mean?"

Graylor shakes his head at the wave of questions. "I don't know, we are not playing by Orlanthi rules and I don't know the rules here anymore than you do. I might hazard a guess that they may wait to see if any of the gods want to take a hand in this. That would be the Orlanthi way. Again in the Orlanthi way winning would mean that the soul has the right to choose where it wants to go. But Carmanians have a different view on life, it would be no surprise if they too had a different view of death too."

"Now be quiet and listen. All will be revealed in due course."

As Graylor just finishes his words, a voice rises up, "So... once more Darkness’ claims are discarded by thieves when Darkness, Mother of All, should be listened to and approved!"

The authoritative voice speaking rolls like distant thunder. A dark shape appears, like the massive silhouette of a muscled man who had abandoned physical activity for a more sybarite lifestyle, still impressive for his strength but marked by continuous excess. The heavy-bellied figure is tall and seems regularly plagued by a mist of dark buzzing particles of Darkness that he keeps dismissing with unconscious head or hand movements, rather as a horse would whisk its tail to chase away disturbing flies…

In a more pompous tone, the voice continues, "I am Lord Baltezer the Magnificent, the patron saint of Ambition for the faithful Carmanians, protector of those who strive hard for success and better life, counsellor of the powerful and the weak alike and without distinction. My generosity is proverbial and my wisdom limitless. Usually..."

The herald cuts into the speech without any consideration for the long list of presented titles and declares, "The court already knows you, Baltezer, as the thirty-third lackey of the second row of Deshlotralas, Lord among Lords of Hell. Present your evidence to the court."

The dark demon doesn’t seem to be concerned by the herald’s interruption and states, "As I was saying… I usually don’t care about tiny souls like Abul’s, they are too young to have reached any great achievement and too green as a fruit to be really tasted, but my attention was drawn by the potential of this interesting case..."

There is a threat and a temptation in the pronounced words as they seem to float in the air for a while.

"I’m especially fond of illegitimate children like this one. For the moral order, they shouldn’t be allowed to exist. They have no place around and are expected to stay as invisible as they can. Of course this is totally unfair and most of them try to usurp what has been denied to them… In fact, these pretending losers are among my favourites!"

The dark figure of Baltezer turns toward the Judge and addresses him with inherent contempt. "You asked if Abul al'Kathoum behaved as a Hazar should? Of course he did. He was obviously trying to become a skilled warrior, training himself to master the violence of weapons, gathering power and means for his further plans... but does this make him honourable..?“

Here Baltezer gives a cruel laugh, full of disdainful joy and harsh cynicism. "He is a just small bastard without any respect and honour for his own ancestry..." Baltezer notes, insulting and nearly crying with laughter as if he had made an irresistible joke. "Has he shown pride in his lineage? No... Abul is a Spolite, and he has spent his life totally despising his legacy. Has he shown pride in his country? Should we really talk about the fact that his whole life has been about fleeing his birthplace? Abul, a patriot? His last notable action was to voluntarily join a pitiful wrecked band of rebellious mercenaries fighting Carmania’s laws and authority... Authority, should I remind the court, set in past times by your Honour... Has he shown pride in his accomplishments? I will agree with you that his accomplishments are so tiny they aren’t worth any debate, but read him clearly and the only thing that you will see plainly are doubts and a blind man’s quest for non-existent truths.”

The voice becomes more manipulative, pushing mortal minds into imbricated sophisticated labyrinths of self-contradictions and paradoxes. "This will also answer for principles, weakness, compromise or hesitation... not to mention honesty and truth. This scamp is a constant liar, presenting himself as a noble Carmanian when he is nothing but a low caste Pelandan and a Spolite bastard. The treacherous al'Kathoum house is no more and certainly not recognized in Carmania as an honourable house, but Abul keeps presenting titles, even to this court, that are nothing, cheating people around him… Have you seen any of his family members testifying for him? Don’t wait, because he has despicably rejected them and no one will come for him... They all have better duties to accomplish elsewhere...”

After a very short silence, letting his words penetrate the minds present, he pursues his assault. "Honour, honour, honour... let us speak about Honour! He recently pretended to follow the code of honour but how does he die? Defending a so-called queen, seditious leader of the southern barbarian storm rebels, worshipping Orlanatus Terminatus and fighting the noble guidance of eternal Carmania...”

"Ah rebellion, a word that I love so much... but how does rebellion go with obedience? You asked if he obeyed the orders of his Shah? His adoptive father is a traitor and a felon, a rebel to the legal authority of the current Shah and an apostate not following the fatwahs of the Vizirs and Magus in charge and who do you think Abul admires the most..? What does this give concretely? He disobeyed Egil's orders to let him face the trolls alone and to go back to the camp, by the way endangering his whole community where the voluntary sacrifice of a cow-witted low ranked soldier would have saved the day. This is typically the pure hubris of the bastards!”

Baltezer has an evil grin of satisfaction. "So adorable, rebels, I know them well I often answer their prayers, and I tell you: most rebels are cowards, fighting with disguises, ambushes, poisons, and other hidden weapons. How would they do otherwise? Respecting this rule, Abul is a coward. I mean a true coward, afraid of his own shadow, unable to go to sleep without a lullaby. Go! Check his magic and like me, you will find that his best spell is a prayer against fear, probably an addiction to face his poor condition... Disobedient and coward, what an honourable Hazar we have here!"

"And at last but not least, has he shown the behaviour of a true knight? Here we have the testimony of the poor maidenaaa" On these words, he has a long insistent glance at Yenda, a lustful tongue licking his lips. “Ah, Damsel if you knew his secret thinking about you... I mean not only at night, but constantly. You’ll be horrified... or is it delighted? I may check this point when your turn to be here comes... but it doesn’t matter...” Here the tall dark shape turns again to face the judge. "Because you know what I’m saying and you have made the Law for the Carmanians: kill in open day and love during the night..."

Finishing his Indictment, Baltezer announces with an impressive stentorian voice: "Anyway, for all these reasons, I request Abul’s soul as mine. A puny trophy for my collection, but it’s a question of principle, plotting bastards are all mine!"

Graylor snort's his disgust at Baltezer's words. He steps forward full of indignation on Abul's behalf.

"You wonder why Darkness is frequently rejected? When either their words are outright lies or are used to hide truths to distort them into something unrecognisable. Taking his ancestry as an example. You say he spent his life despising his legacy. This is not true in that Abul has only just learned, this very day, that his ancestry may be different from what he was told as a child. It was his parents that told him he was a low cast Peladan and what honour would a child show if they were to question their parent's words. And far from representing himself as a Carmanian he has never made any such grandiose claims. He has always been honest, with the knowledge he had, that is he claimed to be Peladan brought up in the Carmanian way by his adopted father."

"Honour, what do you know about honour? Even your utterance of the word is a foul discord. And how you play it. Abul has no choice but to fall foul of your false judgement. Consider your first example. He is ordered to guard a person and he does so, you consider him lessened because of the fault of the person he is guarding. Yet if he disobeyed orders, then he would also be damned. Again in the second example he is ordered away from a fight, disobeying an order damns him in your eyes, when no doubt if he had obeyed you would damn him as a coward and for his lack of loyalty for his friends."

"Abul is young, only just a man and he is learning to find his own truth. His path has been much harder than most and he has shown himself capable of making hard decisions. In my view he has shown excellent judgement in difficult circumstances."

"But what interests me more here are your motivations. You say he is too insignificant to be of any real value, except here you are, showing the lie in your words. There is something significant about him. Either he will become something that will in the future thwart your designs or he has something you need or indeed both. In which case your prime interest is not to punish or rehabilitate a lost soul it is to get something from it."

Graylor turns to the judge of the court. "I would humbly suggest that this entity is not suitable for the guardianship of Abul's soul. It is not interested in performing its role correctly."

Graylor sits back down and starts to think hard. He wishes he could talk to Dori, she is probably in the crowd somewhere but the confusion of faces and their lack of clarity makes it impossible to identify anyone. Instead he carries out an internal conversation between himself and Dori.

"I am extremely worried by this. What can the entity behind Baltezer gain from Abul's soul? The answer that comes to my mind is that control of his soul would prevent Abul's return to life and fulfilling an unknown destiny."

"Yes, but it all seems a bit too elaborate just to prevent resurrection. There are easier ways to do that. The demons only had to teleport away with his head." Dori responds

"OK there must be something else. What if it is a physical thing they are after?"

"Again that would have to happen on the material plane. Unless they couldn't find what they were looking for." Dori muses thoughtfully.

Graylor's hand falls dejectedly onto his sword. Looking down he has a brainwave.

"You can't take physical objects with you, but they still have a representation here, and they still retain their magic. If they have his soul, then they have representations of all the magical items he has. Including his medallion! I wonder what it really is and who is behind Baltezer? Perhaps it is someone from Abul's family?"

Now Graylor thinks back, while Baltezer had indeed been eyeing Abul in an almost covetous manner, he had perhaps paid more attention to the amulet hanging at his throat than might seem natural.

Egil stands and says, "I know a man who you might upset, when you talk down the legion, and he is not someone you want to piss off but you're the demon. Anyway I had no power to send Abul anywhere, I told him to go but had no authority over him other than as a scout or guide. He chose not to follow my advice, hardly a crime, many people don't follow my advice."

The dark shape that looks like human but which obviously isn't and which calls itself Baltezer the Magnificent has a flash of anger in his eyes as Graylor and Egil question him abruptly, but recovering quickly he casts the typical smile of someone who can appreciate good opposition in a fight...
"Strong minds around... hmmm? In spite of his youth, this Abul had time to find and meddle with people able to think? And so innuendo and insult are your weapons?" He smiles contemptuously. "Well, logical approach for rebel riff-raff, but you can squeak as much as you want: the fact remains that Abul is a traitor to his nation, refusing to obey his Shah and working openly for his enemies... against that you have nothing to oppose Misters I-think-too-much!"

Sitting anonymously in the terraces, Jamal has stayed quiet since the start of the trial. At the end, Baltezer's words affected him much as if a great despairing shadow buried him alive. Abul's judgement was also his judgement as his father and if Abul was guilty then all the blame should be for him.

The doubts which had accompanied him throughout his whole life, re-appear now, merging into one single unbearable and nightmarish feeling: if there is a traitor, it's him, not Abul!

Baltezer's words were made to touch and hurt especially the Carmanian souls, so Jamal rises, deeply injured. "I'm Jamal al Kathoum, adoptive father of Abul," he says, standing straight in spite of his wounded pride. "And I will speak for Abul's family, if no more qualified relative wishes to defend him..."

At first, his voice isn't as firm as he wishes but it gets stronger as he starts proclaiming his beliefs. "Abul isn't fighting the noble guidance of eternal Carmania... Abul is fighting the tyranny of usurpers who conquered our nation to impose their yoke on our countrymen, to distort its culture, changing them from masters into slaves. If Abul has made such a choice it's because of me and if I made such a choice it's because my protector Bisos balks at serving the Red Moon and my guide Her'ward tells me that Truth is a quest, not an obvious but temporary situation..."

Now Jamal pleads as well for himself as for Abul: "When I met Abul he was a Pelandan child plagued by nightmares from the slaughter of his own family and haunted by terrors summoned by Spolite witchcraft. I have educated him to be a proud man of conviction, a real Carmanian, a citizen of the Carmanian nation I would like to see erected again one day... However I couldn't teach him that this foreign Moonson was our rightful Shah, just because it was beyond my strength... My country had been vanquished long ago and is now decadent and feeble, just the memory of what it was before..."

His words are now spoken like an hymn: "I swear that I had to fight this to be able to see myself as a true human being! That why I joined the Her'ward's Legion, a mercenary order where Honour isn't a vain word. Perhaps this goal is wrong but who can say it isn't honourable? And If this desire to see Carmania free and independent again is a fault worth following the first passing servant of the Lie, then I'm the one deserving such a fate not Abul. He is too young to have built up his own convictions from his own experiences..."

There is a pause before the Judge speaks. "This court does not judge whether Abul chose, or was chosen by, the right Shah. We ask whether he was obedient to the Shah he had, and all here agree that he was, His lack of obedience to others is no crime, and the honour of his Shah will be judged when he himself reaches this court as a supplicant. Abul has been honest within the limits of his knowledge, obedient where required, and has fought well and bravely.
But has he held true to the principles of honour? Has he indeed used disguises, ambushes, poisons? Has he treated women with lust in the hours of daylight, not protected and respected them as he should?"

A figure steps forward from the audience, all recognise who she must be, on this plane. She bears an axe, and wears nothing beyond body paint and trophies, Her hair is the deep red of dried blood. She is ageless, both unknowably ancient and at the peak of a warrior's fitness, and far more fearsome than the girl they have known as her representative in the Middle World.
"I can answer that last." The malevolent smile shows pointed white teeth. "Abul's thoughts are his own affair, but he has never acted on them. I would have known, and he would have arrived here far earlier. No, your young knight has behaved as he should."

Then another figure stands. He is tall, dressed in a warrior's garb and he bears a fearsome sword. The sight of it is enough to make many quail. "This knight, he is a follower of mine. I have rules and they are as unbending as this blade. Disguise, ambushes, poisons? I would know, my disciples and devotees would know also. Should this man have acted in a way that betrayed the need for honour in all things then, as the lady said, he would have arrived here far earlier. He was a good knight and his comrades who hold honour dear and above all other things line up to speak his case. I, Hereward Truesword, speak it for him now."

As his speech ends, he... fades? No, changes. The Sword becomes less prominent, his armour changes in style to something more Carmanian, and something - a horn? hanging at his waist becomes more noticeable. When he speaks again, his voice is lighter. "And as Her'Ward Whistleblower, I say that Abul not only acts honourably himself, but he also reprimands others who he thinks are not doing so, even the most powerful. He obeys his Shah, true, but he does not hesitate to act as his Shah's conscience when he sees the need."

Baltezer doesn't seem to feel happy in front of the vengeful goddess, but when Her'Ward shows himself, his face is suddenly distorted by an expression of pure hate. The antagonism between the two entities seems so acute and even conceptual that a boiling manifestation of conflict begins to appear as if the rune of Disorder itself had just been invoked between them.

It isn't even an evident mundane desire for some vulgar murderous feeling that appears on Baltezer' face but more an obvious and essential need for total annihilation, as if Baltezer was just a puppet of forces far beyond any free-willed understanding. This rage is so intense that the buzzing particles of darkness fall around on the ground as so many dead flies, revealing in the process an astonishly frail and twisted body for a demon. As Darkness abandons this warped shape, in this glimpse, all can see the crude nude Lie, perhaps weak for a while but still dangerous by the potentiality of its threat.

The Herald stands straighter, the staff in his hand more obvious. "There will be no violence here," he intones, not as a threat or even a warning, but as a simple statement of fact. "Within this sacred space, the Rule of Law prevails." The boundary around the arena, behind the spectators, flickers a little, reminiscent of the wards around the markets they have seen in the mundane in the past.

Surrounded by too many eyes, and with confrontation denied him, Baltezer steps back, recomposes a more suitable attitude by cloaking himself back into his own shadows and seems to calm down. The perturbation between him and Her'ward disappears as he crosses his now again muscled arms with a defiant look.

There is a pause before the Judge speaks again.
"Abul al'Kathoum asked to be judged as a Hazar. He has been spoken for by his family, his Shahs, his divine protectors. Life and Death have spoken, as have Darkness and Light, the Truth and the Lie. Abul al'Kathoum is a Hazar, and may walk the Sword Bridge with honour."

An exit opens up - or rather, they realise that it is there. A path, leading out of the arena, and to a bridge - a flat bridge, made of steel, with a gutter down the centre. A Sword... Now they think back, it had been there all along, but so narrow that it was barely visible. Now, however, it is wide enough that three could walk abreast, never mind one.

Perhaps by coincidence, or perhaps not, the path to it passes through the audience at a point where most of the Humakti present have congregated.

This is the last contact with the world of life for Abul. He bows respectfully to salute the court and the judge and begins to walks toward the Sword Bridge. While he approaches the unfathomable crowd of Humakti, he slows his steps and try to discern his adoptive father, Yenda or any comrade he might recognize there, fearing to lose the vanishing memories he still wishes to keep of them. Emotions become less and less perceptible as he crosses unknown spectators and witnesses and arrives nearer to the bridge.... to be recognized as an Hazar just raised in him an hint of happiness while the nefarious interest of Baltezer is no more than slight disturbance.

Graylor reaches out to Abul and grips his shoulder. "Keep on fighting for yourself. Round one to us, this isn't the end of your story. Don't go quietly into the void."

One last glance to the living... He has been taught that beyond, all his links with them will be severed, making him fully free to rest in peace...
"The dead have no other ambition than rest, Graylor...," he answers in a sepulchral breath.

Yenda reaches out and plants a kiss on his cheek. "I love you," she whispers to him.

"I wish we had more time Yenda...," he says with his ghostly voice "...but I'm glad my curse didn't finally harm you." His fingers touch Yenda's hand, but they are cold like ice and Yenda's hand is unbearably full of life, nearly burning him.

He retreats with a whisper. "Short stories leave only short memories. Farewell Sword Sister."

Unruffled, Abul leaves the Living and walks across the Sword Bridge.

As he had seen before he approached it, the bridge is wide, and safe. He's walking along the flat, not the edge that he might have feared. It leads out over an abyss, and while he can't see straight down from the centre of the bridge, he can see enough on either side to tell him that it's immeasurably deep. The arena fades into nothingness behind him, and now he can see the far side of the Bridge, where the tip of the Sword reaches firm ground again. A courtyard awaits him, with high walls and many doors. A robed figure awaits him: what little can be seen of the flesh is pale, and as he gets closer, he can hear the wheezing breath. While he cannot see the person behind the role, he knows of only one follower of Saint Abbassar of the Dry Bones anywhere near Pavis. The figure goes to one of the indistinguishable doors, opens it, and gestures to him to go through.

Confident, Abul directs his steps towards the guide, greets the person with a silent nod and passes the designated door. Finally peace awaits him.

For Abul: Abul in the Underworld
For the others: Waking up

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