CHAPTER THIRTEEN: TRIAL (2/3)

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Sol awoke screaming. He was drenched with sweat, his heart pounding. It was dark and it took him a moment to remember where he was. The only light was that of the dim glow filtering through the cracks in the curtain.

He nearly screamed again when something purred in the shadows, only to realise it was Junba. He was sitting before the curtain, his tail snaking hypnotically behind him. He prowled over to Sol and stood up on his hind legs, meeting his height to look into his eyes.

There was not much light, but Sol could see Junba's eyes quite clearly. Something about them seemed remarkably intelligent, he thought, as though the creature was not just looking at him but trying to read him.

Sol wasn't sure what Junba was doing, but his racing heart started to slow as the embers of his nightmare melted away. Junba's stare was remarkably calming. After a moment, Junba nuzzled his head against Sol's arm and purred, then curled up into a ball beside him.

Unsure what else to do, Sol lay back down and stared up at the ceiling. He lay there for what felt like hours, his thoughts never straying far from the looming trial. Goone and Kito might have broken the rules, but they did it for the right reasons, he told himself. The Order would surely let them off once they knew the truth. Harg's fate, on the other hand, already seemed to have been decided. Sol wasn't familiar with the Elders' rules, but it seemed wrong to him to punish a creature who, as far as he could tell, had committed no crime.

A soft breeze fluttered through the curtains and swept over Sol's face.

"Sssoolomon..."

Sol sat up with a shock-and this time he wasn't the only one. Junba leapt onto his feet, putting himself between Sol and the curtain which was rippling like disturbed water, beneath which something deadly lurked. Suddenly the breeze seemed less like wind and more like breathing.

Junba growled. It was no small purr but a deep guttural sound which belonged to a much larger animal.

The curtain rippled again.

Junba growled louder.

The curtain fluttered one last time before the breeze finally dwindled and died.

Junba waited until the curtain had become perfectly still, then curled up into a ball again by Sol's side and closed his eyes.

Sol stayed sitting for the rest of the night.

* * *

The silence was growing uncomfortable.

Farkel had collected Sol from his quarters and escorted him to the Temple (along with Junba, who seemed reluctant to leave Sol's side after the curtain incident), and on the way, he'd made it abundantly clear that nobody was to talk during the trial unless the Grand Master personally instructed them to.

Except the Grand Master wasn't there.

The four Consuls were seated and ready, but after many long minutes, Ephera's chair remained empty.

While they waited, Sol counted no less than twenty-five Elders sitting in a tidy line on either side of him, all dressed in crimson robes. Farkel was directly to his left while the Emperor to his right along with Ifrita and Ofana.

Just as Sol was wondering if something had gone wrong, the large door behind them opened and in strolled Ephera in her blue hooded robes. She looked at no-one as she cut a sharp path across the golden floor to her chair.

She sat and pulled back her hood. "Bring me the prisoners."

From behind one of the white pillars, a male Elder stepped out holding a small wooden box. He carried it to Ephera who lifted the lid and took out a black orb. With barely a pause, she cast it into the centre of the room where it stopped in the air as if caught by an invisible web. It expanded as its black membrane cleared, revealing Harg trapped within.

"I am Grand Master Ephera of the Noble Order," said Ephera. "What is your name, Goblin?"

Harg looked around the Temple, taking every aspect of it in. "So...this is the famous Citadel..." He spotted Sol and nodded to him.

"What is your name?" repeated Ephera.

"My name?" said Harg. He kept looking at Sol as his lips split into a wicked smile. "Edmond Dantès." He winked at Sol who smirked.

Ephera raised an arm and Sol saw the wand in her grip. Harg's bubble suddenly took on a yellow tint.

"Look at me," said Ephera.

Harg turned around at once.

"I will ask you again. What is your name?"

"But I told you. My name is-" Harg froze. He clutched his throat like he was choking on something until at last, he spat it out. "Harg!"

Ephera lowered her wand. "Goblin Harg. You are charged with taking refuge in the human world, evading arrest, and attacking an Elder. Are there any other crimes that you wish to confess to?"

"Are there any others? I'm yet to hear a crime that I'm guilty of."

"You were captured in the human world. You must know that it is forbidden for your kind to reside there or you would not have stayed in hiding for so long."

"Ah, then my crime is survival. I have spent my entire life being hunted because of you. You accuse me of taking refuge in the human world, but how can I take refuge there when it is the only world I've ever known? You accuse me of evading arrest, but how can I be arrested when I have committed no offence? I have never hurt anyone."

"You cast a spell on an Elder. One of the Emperor's daughters, in fact."

Harg coughed up a laugh. "A sleep spell!" He turned to see Ifrita sitting stoically between the Emperor and her sister. "Tell me how she is harmed. She is awake, isn't she? If it is a crime here to sleep, then this world is even more unjust than I thought."

"The point remains that your kind does not belong in the human world. By remaining there, you have extended the crimes of your ancestors."

Harg's smile twisted into a sneer as he turned to face Ephera again. "I did not ask to be a Goblin. If I were tall and slender with smooth, brown skin like yours, Grand Master, then I would have my freedom... but I am short and fat and my skin is coarse and grey, and for these crimes, you will banish me to a place where I will never again hear birds singing in spring, nor feel the warmth of a summer's afternoon, nor see the colours of autumn. No... all I will know from now on is the bite of winter, and its teeth are sharp and its tongue cold. It would be kinder to kill me."

A short silence followed.

"Is there anything else you wish to add?" asked Ephera.

Harg shook his head. "If I knew the words to turn chaos into reason, I would speak them... but I do not. There is nothing else to say."

"Then we shall proceed to the verdict. Consuls of the Noble Order; the defendant is charged with taking refuge in the human world, the punishment for which is exile. Who here finds the defendant guilty?"

Ephera raised a hand, as did the four Consuls-or in Rukh's case, a wing.

"Quelle surprise," muttered Harg.

"Goblin Harg," said Ephera. "You have been found guilty. As Grand Master of the Noble Order, I hereby order you to be escorted to the continent of Teruntila where you will be set free to live among your own kind. Your trial is over. I wish you well." Ephera motioned with her wand and Harg's orb turned black once again and shrank again to the size of a marble. It sailed across the room back to Ephera who replaced it in the wooden box and removed another.

"The next to be tried will be Kito Sun," said Ephera, and she tossed it into the centre of the room. Like Harg's, it ballooned to full size and became transparent.

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