“Focus the Oculory,” intoned Sister Betsy.
The Healomancer, a bright blob, shaded Jillian’s brow with her blobby pink hand and rapidly glanced back and forth between the Chief’s eyes. The real world wavered, then fell back into perfect sharpness.
“You’re healed,” she said with a certain professional coldness, and turned away.
Jillian swiveled her head sharply, looking at everything she could. Her gaze darted around the street, first recognizing the big yellow forms of her gwiffons, including the one holding the Overlady in its mouth.
The complete Court of Faq was present. Most stood on the steps of the archway to the Wizard’s Hall, talking in pairs and clusters, some joyfully, some in hushed and conspiratorial tones. A number of them cautiously paid their respects to Wanda, their newest. A fully-whole Brother Orwell stood in his shackles to one side, speaking glumly to the King.
And Jillian stood there in the middle of the cobblestone street, ignored by all. She had her eyes back, but no-one was offering theirs.
Well, Jack looked her way. His little head-tilt and raised eyebrow inquired if she was all right. She gave him a smile and nod, lifting her sword in salute. Then she let the tip of her weapon casually hover in front of Olive’s face.
She sniffed the air. The prisoner had a familiar scent upon her. Jillian moved the sword away. With her off hand, she touched the stale flower still clinging to her hair.
“Hey. You carrying?”
Olive twisted her neck to look up at her. The Overlady’s red-rimmed blue eyes seemed kindly, almost remorseful. “Yes. Would you like a bud, Jillian?”
Yes, I would really, really like one. Three, four, five seconds she bit her tongue and counted, until she could trust herself not to say that.
“After,” she said. After Haffaton is done. After I’ve felt that thump in my wrist that means my sword connected, that it got through your neck cleanly. I’ll pick it off of your body. No, that one’s probably poisoned. That’s probably why you offered it. Your last little trap. I’ll go out in the garden and get a fresh one.
Banhammer informally convened the Court. True to form, the casters immediately began a pointless and lengthy discussion about where to have the trial. The Wizard’s Hall might have been the obvious choice, but the “recent disharmony” there made King Banhammer want to entertain other options. Half of these casters were seeing a non-Faq city for the first time. They made eager suggestions: the top of the tower, Judy’s suite, the outer walls.
Jack, at least, brought up the urgency of the situation. “It still being the, ah, enemy’s turn,” he said, apologizing for the word with his eyes, “we perhaps cannot afford to dwell on this question long. While I certainly see the need for a trial, the Services of Truth and Justice are being needlessly delayed. After all, right here in the middle of the street might be perfectly adequate to get to the bottom of things.”
“Sounds good,” interjected Chief Jillian. She pointed downward with her flashing sword. “I really like that gutter. It’s got a nice little slope for her head to roll down.”
Olive let out a little whimper, then burst into sobs again. The wrinkled noses and furrowed brows let Jillian know she hadn’t won any points with the jury.
King Banhammer eventually settled on a spot that Wanda suggested: a patio garden in the garrison courtyard. It was an open space, cheery, adorned with potted plants with all the wrong flowers growing on them. There was a raised fountain, where they dragged a big wooden table to serve as a bench for Banhammer to preside upon. The place had a lot of room, and plenty of sturdy chairs to seat the jurors. Wanda and Olive chose to stand before the King. Orwell asked to sit beside the accused, where he slouched disconsolately in a large “witness chair.”
Jillian liked this space, mainly because she could park a gwiffon on the stone tiles here. Now perched in its saddle, she rested her bare sword across the flat of its neck, and watched the skies. She fully expected Haffaton to attack at any second, with anything they had. But at least if there were an airspace incursion, she could see it from here. If not, she’d at least be aware if the walls were taking damage.
If—really, when—that happened, then she would not leap into the sky to fight. She would simply lunge forward and croak the prisoner, whatever her father’s orders or objections. At that point, her Duty wouldn’t look so muddled. For now, though, she couldn’t claim 100% certainty that he was wrong.
Which is why she didn’t much care how the trial went. Whatever the jury decided, the battle was already won. This was going to end with the stroke of a blade, and the fall of Haffaton.
Still, it was interesting. She listened as Wanda briefly laid out the history of the side.
Haffaton had been founded on a capital site at the mouth of a river (Jillian remembered stealing a paddleboat there), about eleven thousand turns ago. An adventurous warlord named Lex Doothis had crossed a great sea and discovered a Level 2 barbarian city on the site. Upon conquering it, he spun off a new side. From that small seed, Haffaton slowly grew into the largest side in Erfworld.
“Along the way,” said the Lady Firebaugh, “it conquered and eliminated fourteen sides, including my native Goodminton and your Faq.”
Jillian refrained from whistling, but the fact that there were fifteen capital sites within Haffaton’s domain was hard to fathom. It might be common to see a successful side with two or three, but she’d never heard of any with more than five.
“The Overlord Doothis established the side over a long period of growth, which abruptly ended when it edged up against the domains of Easteros and Westeregg,” said Wanda, addressing the bench in formal tones. She did not pace as she spoke, but stood stock still with her hands folded humbly in front of her. “These were two powerful, strongly allied sides ruled by casters named Bell and Blair. They were sisters, from a distant tribe of green-complexioned men. But more remarkable than their odd Signamancy, each was in possession of an Arkentool. And each was attuned.”
Some of the jurors straightened and murmured. Jillian leaned forward in the saddle.
“Between their domains stood the side of el-Efbaum, with this emerald city as its capital. It also was ruled by a caster, a Carnymancer. At the time, he only allowed himself to be called ‘The Wizard.’ You would know him as Charlie.”
Jillian shook her head. Carnymancy. Nice. Hating Charlie suddenly seemed a little more justified now. It did explain a lot about him, though.
“The Wizard was in a constant war with the sisters, and the outcome was uncertain. For he did not possess an Arkentool. Not yet. Still, he managed to keep his side alive and theirs at bay. At the time that Haffaton began to tangle with the sisters, el-Efbaum had been locked in a stalemate with them for longer than Haffaton had existed. He saw this strong new side as a means to break the deadlock, and he formed an alliance with Doothis.
“Haffaton had a Predictamancer and a Thinkamancer. The Wizard had a Findamancer and a Lookamancer. By means that are now obscure, The Wizard used some or all of those casters in an attempt to summon a warlord capable of defeating Bell and Blair.
“Their spell was a success. In fact, Bell of Easteros was croaked on the spot as an immediate effect of the summoning process. The warlord they called to their aid was Judy Gale.”
The jury sat in rapt silence. Jillian’s head was getting a little numb, trying to process all of this new information. For some reason, the hardest part of it was picturing Judy as a warlord. But she must have been. Rulers’ Signamancy often changes dramatically.
“The Warlady Gale acquired the Arkenshoes from Bell’s body, and over a period of several turns she attuned to them. She then used them to infiltrate Westeregg and destroy Blair, capturing the Arkendish and returning it to The Wizard, as per their terms of alliance.”
Finally, Wanda broke her rigid stance. She turned and stared at Overlady Branch for a long moment, as if to give her the opportunity to refute any of the account. Olive said nothing.
“This is the point at which the defendant’s list of crimes begins,” said Wanda. She slowly turned her head, then her body, back to face Banhammer. “In destroying Blair, Judy had the aid of el-Efbaum’s Hippiemancer, Olive Branch.”
The King was watching the Croakamancer intently, holding tented fingertips to his lips. “State the crimes,” he said. His tone was low and grave.
Wanda raised her head by a bare fraction. “Her most serious acts include at least ten counts of commander-level fratricide (with others attempted). She also attempted both patricide and hericide. Beginning with Blair, she arranged or accomplished the croaking of eleven enemy rulers and at least two hundred warlords under false terms of parley, truce, or alliance, or via other dishonorable and perverse means. Among these were my brother Tommy, and my father Lord Firebaugh.”
From Jillian’s perspective, she could not see Olive’s face. But the Overlady was shaking her head in silent protest. Her knees were shaking a bit as well. “I had good reasons!” she pleaded. “Loj!”
Banhammer pounded his fist on the bench, startling a couple of the jurors. “‘Your Wisdom!’” he corrected sternly. “And the defendant will not speak until the prosecutor has listed the crimes!”
“Thank you, Your Wisdom,” said Wanda, shooting a glance at the cowed Overlady. “The accused has often maintained that her actions were in the service of a greater good, what you would call the Service of Life. I am certain she will argue such. And perhaps these particular crimes against the Titans’ expectations might be considered individually, and even excused in context. But there is a worse crime, one she can never truly answer for. She created the Olive Garden.”
“I see. And what is that?” asked Banhammer skeptically.
“The farm attached to this city,” said Wanda. She took the stale flower from her hair and held it out. “Where these are grown. And worse things than these. She has perverted the purpose of her own discipline. She has weaponized Hippiemancy, used the power of peace in the service of destruction, used Life against Life. Haffaton is an empty husk, sitting where many thriving sides lived before. As pretty as it is, the Garden is the source and center of the decay. There is no other word for the things she has brought into the world except ‘evil.’”
Jillian watched the stale flower, as the Lady Firebaugh replaced it uselessly in her hair. Titans, Wanda must have it ten times worse than she did. How long has she been wearing those things? How much longer does she have before they croak her? Will they get me, too? It was a scary thought, but it didn’t make her want one any less.
...which was even scarier.
“So. Is that your primary charge?” Banhammer asked.
“Yes,” said Wanda. “But it is integral to the details of her other crimes.”
“That she created a garden of evil.”
Banhammer frowned, looking uncertain of what to say. He looked at a few of the jurors, and even glanced Jillian’s way. Then he looked at Olive for a moment, before returning his gaze to Wanda. “You said she was originally a unit of el-Efbaum, correct?”
“Correct, Your Wisdom.”
“So she created this garden here, under The Wizard?”
“Yes,” said Wanda. “Although most of what makes it evil, she created later.”
“That is not what I’m asking. She created it while serving under The Wizard. Perhaps at his direction. Did she pop here in this city?”
“She did, Your Wisdom. And her Flower Power was integral to The Wizard’s efforts to keep Bell and Blair from conquering his side. He used her magic to—”
Banhammer held up a hand. “She popped in the capital, under The Wizard,” he said, leaning forward.
“Yes, Your Wisdom.”
“So the charge of attempted patricide...”
The King straightened in his seat, and folded his hands on the bench.
“She is Charlie’s daughter,” he said slowly, staring at Olive. “And she tried to croak him?”
“Your Wisdom, that is correct.”