“Trespassing on private property, larceny, assault.” The magistrate paused for a beat to add to the gravitas.
“These are among your lesser crimes. Onwards we have piracy, bribery, and the inciting of several riots.” The magistrate tutted as if she had listed off a couple of petty misdemeanours. Her stony, sullen countenance turned towards her left.
“But perhaps there is still hope for you in the jury?” It was the sort of sarcasm that came with judging criminals and convicts on a daily basis; dry, cold, and without the intent to elicit a response. Nevertheless, there were a few short exhalations of air through the nose in the crowd. “Have the jury reached a verdict?”
“We have,” said one of the three jurors, all of which, unsurprisingly, were adversaries of the defendant. “We believe that Mr Volante is guilty.”
There was a silence that swallowed the courtroom, before being drowned out by an explosion of cheers, laughs and tears. Slowly, through the chaotic cacophony of joy, a round of applause was building until there wasn’t a man, woman or child that didn’t join in the standing ovation. The judge smiled a counterfeit smile, something to please the gallery while hiding her boredom and disdain for the uproar. The jurors beamed with what seemed to be great satisfaction after some tough deliberation. Even the bailiff seemed to be having a good time. Dagen sighed, he was a tad disappointed in the crowd.
I could’ve told you the verdict a week ago.
“Then I find Dagen Volante guilty, and shall now pass sentence,” declared the judge as the whooping and hollering died down, “have you anything to say before I make my judgement?”
Dagen turned and glared at the crowd, into their beady, bloodthirsty eyes. He saw each and every one of them sneering their own direct, personal sneer, a vindictive and fulfilled lip curl.
The verdict, the sentence, the whole trial will mean nothing soon.
“Your Honour is the correct form of address. I am a judge, not a queen.” Her voice was certainly punctuated with the haughty contempt of a monarch.
“Your Honour, I can say with certainty that I am an honest man. I would never have committed those crimes if I knew I was going to get caught,” cried Dagen with feigned innocence. There was an audible growl from the gallery as they tasted the insincerity in the ironic words.
“You seem to not be taking this very seriously Mr Volante. This is judgement, but you seem to think this all a very amusing joke.”
It is a joke.
“It absolutely is not a joke in any form,” insisted Dagen in a yet more innocent plea, though the smirk on his face seemed to betray his words.
The crowd grew yet angrier. Many were victims and families of those robbed, assaulted, betrayed, and injured by the actions of Dagen and they wanted to see him reduced to tears, grovelling on the ground asking each and every individual their gracious forgiveness. Instead, it seemed to simply be a way for the thug to pass time.
Dagen could feel even the bailiff next to him start to grow an angry, violent air about him as he continually whispered the various ways he was going to kick Dagen’s head in, none too discreetly.
“Order, order. I have come to a decision after much consideration.”
Much consideration my arse, the verdict was given a minute ago.
“I do not often pass these kinds of sentences, but there come times like these, times of necessity. I hereby sentence Dagen Volante to hang.”
Another wave of excitement came from the crowd. The expectation was lifetime incarceration, but now they had been promised justice and entertainment. Dagen’s smirk contorted into a sly, unconcerned grin.
It wouldn’t make a lick of a difference if it was hung, strung and quartering, darling. As soon as Jaris walks through that door, I’m a free man.
“I think I speak for everyone when I say may the gods have mercy upon your soul. Do you have any last thoughts, Mr Volante?”
Mercy of the gods? Just in this room, there isn’t even a shred of mercy in this room.
The gallery’s volume faded to silence once more as they attentively waited for the dead man’s final words in court. As the voices hushed, a rhythmic tapping could be heard just barely in earshot. It grew louder and more familiar; the slow clicking of heels against the wooden floors of the corridor. The sound grew sharper and sharper as the whole courtroom could hear the steps coming leisurely down the hallway.
“Oh what’s that, I wonder?” Dagen said, with his own heavy sarcasm this time, as he stood and turned to face the audience again. “Did you really think my judgement day was today, you thick-as-pig-shit sons-of-bitches? Down that hall is a man with a pardon from the Baron Feldris himself. And you,” he turned now and pointed to the judge who had a raised eyebrow, “there isn’t a thing in the heavens or on this earth that can judge me!” He then proceeded to laugh a hearty yet forced laughter, just to piss everyone off.
The footsteps grew louder now as they were just behind the door. Every single heart in the room pumped with painful anticipation.
The doors swung open, and through them came a tall man dressed in black. All black. Except for a mask affixed to his face. That of crow. It gazed across the room scanning it for something.
The room should have erupted. There should have been shock, or fear or even terror as the thing that lurked by the door lurched towards the Judge’s bench. There was a collective holding of breath. Any child in the crowd that tried to ask why the grown-ups had gone so quiet was instantly silenced. The man strode up the steps of the bench until the crow mask’s sockets were at eye level with the judge. He gestured with a single, commanding finger for the judge to lean in. She instantly obeyed the demand, though did so with fearful reluctance.
Perhaps there was whispering, some charm or incantation to enchant the judge, although the colour draining from her face didn’t suggest anything enchanting. She was muttering some form of protest but instantly fell back into silence. Her eyes looked like they’d belonged to a person drowning, losing sight of the last glimmers of light before succumbing to the dark.
“You whoreson! Where’s Jaris?” Dagen screamed across the room, the utter fury emanating from his volume was unable to hide the desperation in his voice as it cracked.
The mask’s empty sockets snapped towards him and Dagen almost fell from the sudden terror, like realising you aren’t alone in a dark room. He croaked and his imposing stature crumbled to a weak hunch as he slowly sat down.
NO, NO! It’s all coming apart. Think, Think!
“He... deserves death...not this,” the murmur left the Judge’s mouth, but as the man turned to glare at her instead, her pulse almost left with it. With a shaky hand, she reached for the gavel as the man turned to face the gallery.
“B-by... the power invested... in me, I sentence you to-” she paused to regain her composure, “to serve with the Tenetasi.” The gavel slammed down to legitimise the sentence.
The sound that came from the gallery was deafening. There were screams, shouting, people dropping whatever they held. Various words could be heard in the chaotic hubbub like, “they’ll make him a monster,” and “poor bastard.”
Dagen collapsed and fell from his seat to the floor of his bench, only being able to get up when the bailiff helped him. His chest felt like it had burst as his heart rate soared. There was dull tinnitus in his ears.
The Tenetasi surveyed the room once more before walking up to Dagen’s bench and leaned in until the beak of the crow mask was at risk of poking into one of Dagen’s watery eyes.
“I’ll be outside,” came a soft whisper. Then the man turned and left the court through the doors.
“Guilty!” Dagen shrieked across the room. “I’m guilty, I deserve death, hanging, burning, anything, please!” Tears streamed down his face, he used his shaky arms for support as he made the proclamation. The crowd looked at him, sympathetically and unsurprised. The Judge was the only one who wasn’t looking at him. Instead, she was looking down, in shame, in guilt.
“I-I have no power over you anymore,” she sighed, “all I can say is make peace with whatever you venerate or love.” Her face slunk into her hands, and her shoulders shook, not out of guilt, but fear.
The bailiff, burly and rough by nature, who normally would’ve seized any convict by the neck, simply tapped Dagen’s shoulders and gestured for him to follow. The convict rose, defeated and broken, and followed the bailiff through the other doors and out of the chaos and pandemonium. The walk through the corridor was long, and silent as if sound had forgotten to follow Dagen past the doors, or it was too frightened to.
The bailiff then stopped abruptly and pulled Dagen into a small alcove and looked him in the eyes.
“I’m sorry, lad. Not even you deserve what they’ll do to you”, was all the bailiff could say.
Dagen was unresponsive.
" There’s... well, there’s only one way out of this,” said the bailiff as he reached for his belt and unsheathed a cold, bitter, iron dagger, “and it isn’t alive.”
He held the dagger out by the blade, and Dagen weakly gripped the hilt of the implement. He eyed it up and down before looking at the other man.
“You’re a bastard, but even bastards deserve better than the Tenetasi. You know what to do I trust?”
“I do.” Dagen’s voice was soft and quivering as he felt the metal’s merciful touch on his throat.
“Not now. Do it on the ride with that Tenteasi fucker. Do it here and I’ll get accused of killing you. Now, take as much time as you need to gain your courage, gods know you’ll need it.” He smiled weakly to comfort the doomed man.
They waited for what felt like a long time, but that was most likely due to the rush of adrenaline and desperation running through Dagen’s veins. He made the most of his borrowed time, whispering, reaching out to any god, devil or other thing willing to listen. But no one heard him except the bailiff.
After a little longer, Dagen managed to regain his composure. The bailiff even noticed a bit of defiance in his eyes, a burning hatred for something. Dagen held out his hand. The bailiff shook it firmly. And then, Dagen walked further down the corridor without a word. The silence now felt saturated with sorrow.
Dagen pushed through the final set of doors to the back courtyard. In its midst stood the dour figure of black and argent. A monument to all his fatal flaws and his arrogance. It was a future reflection of what he would one day become.
But not in this life.
The air was cold, the blade behind his back, colder. The sun was seized by winter’s snowy grasp as the clouds blotted out the pale light, leaving only grey tones. But it only seemed to get more frigid as he approached the Tenetasi. He stopped 5 feet away from the cloaked figure and stared into the empty eye sockets.
“You look angry, friend. Has something happened?” It seemed the whispering mask had a sense of humour. There was a raven smile behind the mask.
“Where’s Jaris?” Spat Dagen through gritted teeth as he felt a blinding heat build behind his eyes.
The hands of the dark figure reached for the corvian mask and slowly removed it from his face. Hope flooded into Dagen again.
Jaris, the clever bastard! A disguise.
But that was false hope. There was pale skin, long black hair and a crooked smile instead of Jaris’s face.
“You were foolish to trust someone cut from the same cloth as you. I offered ten sovereigns to take you. He said it was a rather generous offer. And he sold you off. For ten measly sovereigns.” The whisper slowly wormed its way into Dagen’s ears. Fury seethed from the convict’s throat as he slowly exhaled.
“Now that the pleasantries are over, I welcome you to the Order of the Tenetasi, where you will remove any threat caused by Hubris or other twisted power.” The smile faded and was replaced by a stern grimace.
Dagen had had enough. He had been gripping the dagger so firmly, his fingers had gone numb. His eyes glared straight at the Tenetasi. There was fear in those slightly red orbs, but there was an overwhelming resentment that masked it.
“I will never serve with you animals.” Dagan produced the dagger from behind his back and pressed it against his throat, feeling its metallic kiss. The Tenetasi pretend to be shocked by placing a hand on his mouth in false disbelief, then produced a grim smirk again.
Dagen plunged the knife into flesh and artery, then vein, cartilage and bone. He screamed. Something you don’t do with your throat slit. He looked down and saw his hand around the razor, deeply embedded in his shoulder. His forearm had a new bend in it, one that was not supposed to be there. Before he could register it all, the pain came. And he fell to the cobbles.
It burned. Like a brand had been placed under his skin. The flesh felt like it was singeing, melting, boiling. The warm fluid started to gush out, so mild and temperate against the breeze, as it started to warm his arm and his back. The second wave came. Agony, clicking as the convulsions caused the blade to tap against the bone and sear through more tissue. Torment shot up and down his arm, trying to find an exit and leave its bleeding cage. It began to swell. And throb. A cold sweat started to break all across Dagen’s body as he began to feel pins and needles in his feet.
“No, no. It won’t do. To cheat death, understandable. But to cheat the Tenetasi?” The gaunt and pallid presence drew closer, knelt on one knee and gripped the hilt of the blade, sending new volts of misery down the butchered arm. “That is another thing entirely.”
He slowly slid the blade out of its fleshy sheath, not fearing to tear more along the way. Panic, bewilderment, mania gripped Dagen’s mind, and nothing else. He was like a caged animal, battling a futile fight for freedom.
“H...h-how? The knife was at m-my neck?” He croaked as his voice slowly hissed past his unharmed throat. The silhouette chortled as he gazed at the blood-soaked dagger in macabre curiosity.
“You are Tenetasi now. Do you know what that means? It means the ‘how’ is irrelevant. The result is all that matters.”