I’d like to welcome my good friend Christopher Kellen to the blog today. Chris is the author of the Arbiter Codex books as well as the Elements of Sorcery series of novellas set in the same world. He’s set to release the third story in that series, “Sorceror’s Blood.” I’ve read it. It’s pretty awesome. Edar Moncrief is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in fantastic fiction. The first two stories, “Sorcerer’s Code” and “Sorcerer’s Crime” are available for all ereaders, and just $.99. If you enjoy gritty swords and sorcery adventure, you should read them.
For this stop on his “Sorcerer’s Blood” tour, Chris and I decided to have a little fun. Last time, we interviewed each other’s characters. Read me interviewing Chris’s characters here, and Chris interviewing my characters here. This time around, we decided to put Edar Moncrief through the ringer by subjecting him to a tribunal of several of my characters. We’re also doing a contest give away. My characters are not going to be mentioned my name.
Anyone who can guess all of the characters in the scene correctly by Friday, February 22nd will get a free electronic copy Chris’s books Elegy and Legacy first two books in the Arbiter Codex AND (not to be outdone) ALL THREE Tears of Rage books. Respond in the comments below, and don’t forget to add your email address so we can contact you. I won’t be verifying characters in the thread, so don’t assume just because someone says a character’s name, means they got the character right.
So with great pride and amusement, I present…
THE TRIBUNAL OF EDAR MONCRIEF
Like an Ethresian swamp lizard dragging its bulk from the mire, I slowly heaved myself back to consciousness. I fluttered my eyelids in a desperate attempt to clear them of the haze that blurred my sight, but it was like someone had slapped a blinding enchantment on me.
“‘m th’ sorcerer here, dammit,” I mumbled mushily. “I get t’make th’ ‘nchantments.”
A strange shimmering of light and shadow danced across my vision, obscuring everything, but I had the vague impression that I was sitting. Some distance out in front of me—it might have been two feet or ten—a shadowy image barely resolved into what looked like a table. Behind it sat three figures, cast all in black, no thanks to the fluttering bat wings of darkness that kept hammering my vision. The one in the center might have been a woman, I thought—it was shapelier than the others. I was also certain there was someone sitting beside me, but I couldn’t see him either, despite my best efforts.
“Did I hit my head?” I wondered aloud.
“He wakes… finally,” a female voice rang out. “I call this tribunal to order. Getting the defendant here has cost us energy and resources. Let’s be about this. How does the defendant plead, Master—”
From the dark figure beside me, a voice with the strangest, most alien accent I’d ever heard broke in. He must have been from the Free Cities with a mushmouth babble like that. “No, no, no. We agreed. No names. Names have power, especially where I’m from, and all things considered, his path and mine will more likely cross than yours.”
“Very well then,” the clipped feminine voice answered. “Advocate for the defense, how pleads the defendant?”
“Don’t worry,” the bizarrely-accented voice from beside me whispered. “I’m pretty sure I can talk your way out of this.” He turned back toward the table and stated clearly, “How should I know? He just woke up.”
The woman let out an exasperated sigh as I tried once more in vain to blink the flickering light out of my eyes. I’ve seen and been through some weird things in my time, but this one topped them all. “You could ask him.”
“Oh, right,” the voice beside me said. “Grand so. Edar Moncrief: how plead you? Guilty or innocent?” He dropped back to a whisper that I could barely make out. “And, if you choose innocent, say ‘innocent.’ The lady up there might ignore hearing the ‘not’ part if you say ‘not guilty.'”
“I—innocent!” I squawked immediately. My voice worked better than I expected, and the sharp crack in it—confusion, I tell you, it was by no means utter terror—rang out in the silence. I cleared my throat, huffed a breath, and said again, “Innocent, I pick innocent. Could someone please read the charges? I seem to have forgotten what I’ve done already.” A nervous giggle, one that sounded entirely sane, I assure you, rushed out of my mouth behind the words.
Frustration was evident in the woman’s voice when she spoke next. “Do you believe the court to be fools in claiming that you do not remember?”
Another voice spoke, neither hers nor the strange man beside me. “He’s telling the truth, or at least he believes it.”
A fourth voice now. It really was a tribunal. Oh black gods, what had I done now? “Or he’s choosing his words very carefully so that they don’t come across as lies. He wouldn’t be the first person here to use such a ploy. Isn’t that right, Advocate for the defense?”
The voice beside me spoke as though he were admiring his own fingernails. “Am I suddenly on trial? Oh, I thought that you were accusing me, rather than confessing. Apologies.”
“See?” The fourth voice grunted.
The male voice to the left of the female figure spoke again. “My ability does not matter what words he speaks. The defendant can speak any words he wishes, and I will still know whether or not his intent is to deceive. The defendant does not intend to deceive us, and he is completely confused as to why he is here.”
Oh, Arangoth. Laughter, or something very like it, bubbled up in my chest. There was someone here who didn’t seem intent on my execution.
“Edar Moncrief,” the woman said flatly. “You stand accused of twisting the arcane and spiritual laws of your world, causing disruptions in the fabric of reality.”
What? At first I thought I’d shouted out loud, but then I realized my expostulation had only been in my own mind. My brain frantically whirred. Was she accusing me of… sorcery? I barely smothered a laugh, instead making a loud snorting sound. Perhaps I wasn’t so innocent after all.
“Objection,” my mushmouthed companion interjected. “These disruptions are circumstantial.”
The woman sighed; a long-suffering sound. “Fine. Edar Moncrief, you stand accused of twisting the arcane and spiritual laws without regard for the safety of reality.”
I was certainly beginning to question the safety of reality; there was no doubt of that. Last thing I’d known, I was in my lab on the Selvarian wharf, working on… something. For some reason, I couldn’t recall what. It was as though the memory were dancing just out of my reach.
“Objection,” the man I was quickly coming to appreciate said again. “The defendant’s personal feelings are purely speculation.”
She sighed again. Thwarted at every turn, I thought gleefully, though what arcane and bizarre system of justice they were utilizing here had me entirely baffled. This was far more civilized than Old Kingdoms justice. Generally speaking there were just two people involved when a wrong had been committed: the accused and the headsman. Criminal trials were generally rare, though, since one party or the other most often ended up dead before they could be paraded before a crowd and hanged or beheaded.
“Well, that is part of what we are here to determine,” she said. “Moncrief, what do you say to this?”
“None of this is real,” I said aloud. “I must be hallucinating. Maybe it was that last experiment I did–”
“Not real?” The woman interrupted. “Hallucination? Pride like that is exactly the reason you are here. With all your learning and studying of what the dark powers on your world are capable of doing, not just to your world, but to all worlds if allowed to escape beyond your backward corner of reality, you still refuse to treat it seriously and play the reckless fool every chance you get.”
“Good ploy,” my “advocate” murmured to me. “Get her mad, she won’t think as clearly, and she’ll make a mistake. Just don’t make her too mad. She’ll have the shadows skin you alive and then sew your hide on backwards before sending you home.” Somehow, I didn’t think he was kidding.
He raised his voice once more. “Again I have to object. His attitude is not the matter of this hearing.”
“I must agree with the Advocate,” my unknowable ally said. “If we are to take feelings and emotions into account, we might as well place ourselves alongside Moncrief. God knows we’ve all had murderous intent in our hearts. Some more than others.”
Me? I’ve never had a murderous thought in my life, I thought. Well, except for right now, perhaps. And there was that time with the town guardsmen in Elenia, not to mention that other time…
“Which god knows?” the other man at the table asked.
“Whichever. It’s just a figure of speech, and you know it. You’re almost as bad as the advocate for the defense,” my sympathizer retorted.
“Order,” the woman snapped. There was a brief pause, and then, “Edar Moncrief. You stand accused of willful negligence in the experimentation of extraordinary powers of your world to the point of endangering the fabric of reality. Do you have anything to say on this matter?”
This was a terribly persistent dream, I noted idly. I’d never had a hallucination so long or so vivid, and my dreams usually involved much more… well, let’s just say they were usually far more interesting than this.
As for the accusations… well, I realized that I did have something to say about that. “In fact,” I said, straightening in what I was fairly sure was a chair built for someone with a steel arse, “it depends entirely on what you’re talking about. I have indeed dabbled with extraordinary powers, but I have always strictly avoided any of those that might endanger anyone. Corruption is strictly off-limits to my experimentation.”
Unless, I thought as a little chill went through me, they’re talking about Yzgar’s Verse of Undoing. That… well…
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” the male voice at the right of the table said. “My Lady, may I ask a question?”
“Please do,” she answered. “He seems to be twisting and squirming around everything I ask him. Perhaps you are better suited to this, as I recall more than once seeing you play this very game.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he answered, but I could hear the smarmy grin in his voice. “You say corruption is strictly off-limits to your experimentation,” he said next, and I assumed he was talking to me again. “Tell me then, is this a personal guide line? A stricture in place by the laws of your society? Or is it a universal impossibility in so far as you’re aware?”
I couldn’t help it; I snorted. If they were my own brain, why were they asking such stupid questions? “It’s just a really, really bad idea,” I answered, deciding to play along. “I could, technically, if I was crazy enough to want to erase my own personality by inviting it in. I just don’t, because I like my own mind, thank you very much. It’s not like anyone or anything’s stopping me, except for my own sense of self-preservation… which, I assure you, is very strong.”
“Good answer,” my advocate whispered.
My ally at the table spoke up. “He’s telling the truth. Moncrief believed in his own self-preservation above all other things, not just in his current body and life, but also to maintain a hold of his intellect and personality just in case there is existence beyond death of his physical body. I’d say he believes in his own survival even more than the gentleman to your right you keep pining for.”
The woman at the center coughed. “That will be enough of that. Please limit your assessments to the accused.”
“I think a little side commentary is all right,” the other man at the table said, an edge of humor coloring his voice. “And very informative.”
“I’m sure you would, until he starts making side commentary about you,” the woman retorted.
I’m pretty confident in my imagination as a whole, but I’d never in my life dreamed up something like this. These people were… bizarre. It was like I’d invented people with their own lives inside my head.
It was the only possible explanation. Surely this could not be real.
“Well, he’s day dreamed about you more than once since you parted ways,” my ally said, and there was a definite smirk in his voice.
“Right. No side commentary,” the other man said. I could hear my advocate smothering his sniggers.
“Grand so, I think this clears everything up nicely,” he said, smoothly interrupting and not at all sounding like he was laughing at them. “Nothing to go on here. I move that we let Edar Moncrief here be about his business. Do I have a second on this?” My advocate drove an elbow into my ribs.
I yelped. “Yes, yes, I will be your second!” It was the only thing I could think to say.
“One moment,” the woman interrupted. “I have a question about this sense of self-preservation. Moncrief, you love your life?”
“More than anything else in the world, I might say,” I answered quickly.
“Oh no,” my advocate muttered, despair filling his voice.
“Including, using a…” the woman started, but she was cut off by the sound of something tearing… a horrible sound that truly made me think of the very fabric of reality coming apart. A figure entered through a shining wall of light; dressed in blue trousers, a blue vest, and a bright yellow shirt. A plaid cape with dozens of colorful streamers fluttered back from his shoulders, though I could feel no wind. I looked, and I could see him, even through the flickering shadows that still obscured my vision.
“Shit,” my ally at the table said simply.
“What did you do?” the other man demanded.
“Cottage,” the voice beside me muttered, and there was a clicking sound, but that was all. “Bad. Bad, bad, bad…”
“All right,” the newcomer said, his voice resonating with a power that shook me to my very bones. Surely the Dark Gods had such power, but would they choose such an appearance? “This has gone far enough. It was fun for a while. But I know where you’re going with this, and you can’t.”
“I have every right to–” the woman began.
“Stop talking.” The newcomer’s voice was flat. He pulled what looked like a sheaf of parchment and some sort of metallic quill from nowhere. The woman at the table tried to say something… I could barely make out her face now, through the haze. Her lips were moving, but nothing came forth. She glared at the man in blue and yellow with an anger so fierce I thought he might burst into flames.
He just looked amused.
“Now, I was happy to let this little charade continue because it was amusing, but I ca’t let you go about bringing up things that Moncrief hasn’t done yet. And before you protest that you know about his actions, I will retort with, of course you know about them, as I’ve read them. However, that particular tale has not been published yet, and so you were going to ruin a part of the story for many followers of Moncrief’s misadventures. Off you go.”
I blinked. Then I blinked again. What?
“What?” I asked aloud a second later, but no one was listening to me.
The man scribbled with the quill on the parchment, and suddenly, everything around me vanished. I looked around, but I hadn’t caught a glimpse of any of them before they’d disappeared.
He turned to me then, and looked at me with a sparkle in his eyes. “You all right?”
“I… uh… bluh…” I tried to say something, but I was truly awed by the power the figure before me had just demonstrated. Surely, this was sorcery of a kind that even I could not match. “I, uh, think so. Thank you?”
“No problem,” he said. “Sometimes my subconscious gets the better of me. My parents always said my imagination was more likely to get other people into trouble than me.”
I laughed a little. Surely I was going crazy.
“Yeah, so, uh…” he went on, ” Sorry about all this. They get overzealous some times and don’t understand that sometimes they just have to let stories play out to there conclusion. No hard feelings?”
“None at all,” I agreed in a sort of giddy daze. “As for me, I promise never to experiment with bakharen again. Seems like it’s dangerous. But… if I might. What did you mean by ‘things he hasn’t done yet?’ How could you possibly know what I’m going to do?”
“I could tell you,” he said, “but you wouldn’t possibly believe me. You think this is crazy enough as it is. You can go back now.”
“I can… what?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. that’s not going to work for you.” He drew what appeared to be a strange, shiny, flat rock from his pocket and began tapping on it with his fingers. The rock was… glowing? I barely heard what he said next. “Gotta get Chris to get you outta here. Oh hey, while we’re waiting, what did you think of your advocate?”
I blinked at him a few times. “He was… he talked strangely, but… I got the feeling that he and I might get along.”
“I’ll let him know, and I’ll let other powers that be know. Maybe…just maybe…you’ll see each other again. Anyway, I think you’re headed back now. Might have a headache and feel a bit woozy. A walk and some fresh air might do you some good.
The world began to fade away. The stranger gave me a sort of half-wave and a grin. A rushing sensation flashed through my mind, and then I was sitting at my lab table, staring down at a smoldering patch of brush. Bakharen root.
“What was I thinking?” I asked aloud. “I thought I had something there for a moment.” There was… something, just out of reach of my mind. I reached out with one hand and grasped at the air, as though to take hold of… something.
With a flash of irritation, I waved my hands in the air to disperse the smoke. It smelled foul. “Bah. I need to get out, take a walk. Clear my head.”
I extinguished the smoldering root, rose from my lab bench, and went out the door.
It was going to be a good day, I thought to myself, whistling tunelessly as I went.