The Magistrate looked like a thunderhead perched above a mountain, sitting behind her enormous marble desk. She was frowning furiously, her lips pursed so tight you could have used her mouth as a ruler. Behind her, the amassed books of the Law of Azure City, and the law of higher authorities then any judges of the Earth, were neatly ordered on shelves that cluttered most of the forty foot wall. Unlike everything else in the room, or infact the city, the majority were not blue, but rather the white of uncolored calfskin leather. The witness stand to the Magistrate’s right stood empty, as did the huge gallery. The room was well lit, yet somehow dim and ominous, gave the impression of harsh, merciless judgment, bleak and pitiless as the slopes of hell.
“Enter the Hall of Justice,” the Magistrate rumbled. “and you shall be heard.” It sounded like a sentence being pronounced already.
Shojo ambled in, looking totally unconcerned. One would have thought he was ambling along on a country walk, rather then facing judgment for crimes real and imagined. No celestial being, he noticed. They must be trying to cut expenses.
"I always hated sitting in this room." He announces to no one in particular. "The chair always made me squirm something terrible, and made my back ache. So what is it exactly I have done?"
Hinjo shakes his head. "Uncle, that's not impressing anyone."
Shojo didn't dignify this with a response. Instead he began fidgeting, occasionally pausing to look at the ceiling or the floor, as though he was sacrificing his valuable time for the sake of humouring someone beneath his notice.
"Shojo, formerly lord of Azure city, the surrounding territories and the remnants of our ancient Empire, you are accused of breaking the trust our people have placed on you. We find you guilty of corruption, manipulation, treason, and interference with legal proceedings." The magistrate said imperiously.
"So that's it? I can go?"
It was the magistrates turn to ignore him. "If you have anything you would like to say in your defence…"
"Why bother. You all know why I acted the way I did. The very fact that we are bothering with this farce when there will be a war in less then 24 hours should be proof enough that the system needs to change. Any child can see that."
The Magistrate pursed her lips, her eyes as grey as her hair. "Lets assume I'm very stupid."
"People haven't guessed that already? The fate of the world was at stake, you moron! And it still is! They're not playing by the rules, why in name of The Monkey's hairy arse should I?"
"The fact that we do is what makes us better then them…" She droned, but Shojo roared right over the top of her, releasing his long pent-up rant, that he’d been unable to let out for decades.
"The fact that we do is why they are winning! And if you pulled your head out of your arse long enough to pay attention, you'd realize that. Also, I can't believe you wasted 5000 gp just to throw me in a dungeon until the hobgoblins break through and kill me!" He thundered. “People ar going to die just so you can play at being heroes. People with families and feelings. And you don’t even care, because it gets in the way of your honour and our cities laws to try and stop this. Well let me tell you something, honour and law only exist to protect people, not to give them chains!”
Hinjo stepped forward. "Uncle…"
"Et tu, Hinjo? Are you as stupid as they are?" He glared at the guard who had escorted him in. "I think I'd like to be taken to my cell now, please." He said dismissively. “Unless you want my head?”
Her eyes narrowing, the magistrate shook her head, as though doing so was requiring all her personal control.
The guard shrugged, and put the manacles around his wrists, dragging him out the door.
It was odd, but there in chains, his face livid with rage and impotent sadness, his back bowed and his clothing a robe soiled with his own blood, he had never looked more commanding, lordly or regal.
"Aren't you the king or something?" Said a dark haired, dark dressed man, who was obviously trying to grow a beard. But either he wasn't trying very hard, or he had his technique wrong, as his face was dark and prickly with stubble.
Shojo didn't so much as blink in recognition. The anger had drained out, leaving him empty. He wished he had been left dead. He had no idea what it had been like, but it would have been better to have gone out with a bang then a whimper. This was just embarrassing.
"Ah, leave him." Said another man, who could probably swap beard growing advice for a few tips on how to keep your hair. "He's like, stupid or something. You know, like old people get. Doesn't know what he's doing."
Shojo smiled to himself. Ah, those had been the days. Pulling the strings without letting them realize he was, then watching them stumble around looking for someone to blame, while he sat in plain sight but was ignored because he talked to his cat.
It had been… exhilarating in a strange sort of way. He'd done far better then any of Azure cities rulers for generations, all who had been good, pious, and to honorable to scratch their arses. His dad had been a good soldier, but Soon should never have made him king.
He didn't miss it. It had kept him motivated, focused, and ahead of the game, kept his wits sharp and instincts keen, but he wasn't getting any younger. Hinjo was as good hands as the city deserved. It was time he got some rest. Besides, what was there left that he could do? Politics was a young mans game.
The cell was rather more nicely appointed then anyone elses. The walls were freshly scrubbed, the floor cleaned, the furniture made. It was still rice and water, but he wasn't hungry, and he'd probably never have the opportunity to eat it anyway. Knowing the world was about to end gave you an oddly liberated feeling in many ways.
Besides death didn't seem to be so bad based on what he'd seen so far. Closest thing he'd had to rest in forty years.
It was good to have finally shifted the last of his responsibility too. Closure all-round…
…Except for that. He sighed, rubbing his bald scalp, and turned to face her, seating himself comfortably on the bed he would die on in less then a day. Time to tie up the last loose end, the last secret that had to be told.
It's bad luck to take secrets to the grave. They might become important, later. And it would be nice to be allowed to die with a clear conscience.
Her eyes were gaunt, her hair tangled and splitted at the ends. There was blood drying above her brow, and her cheeks were gaunt. Even her skin looked waxy. And yet she was still beautiful. Of course, he was hardly an impartial source…
"Miko." He said tonelessly, no trace of recrimination or spite in his voice, no trace of anything at all. It was, in short, as good as kicking the legs from under her and raining blows.
She flinched. She seemed more then a little nervous, somehow vulnerable. It was one thing to work out your justifications, but another to see the subject you’d tried to placate yourself over after the universe had explicitly said you were wrong.
"So they…?" She said.
Stating the obvious. Right. "Yes. i have 24 hours to complete my life. Of course it's too late to do anything now that might be of any use." He said, unable to resist the barb.
"I do not regret what I did. I acted with the best interests of the city and decency. You were a traitor to the cause you swore to uphold. I have no regrets, and aced with a clear conscience." She said, hackles rising.
"Yes you did. But you never stopped to consider if you might be wrong."
Shojo closed his eyes. "I will be dead in less then a day. I would rather not spend that time arguing philosophy with you. What more do you want? You say the gods have a plan for you. Well, perhaps you have strayed from their path. How do you know?"
Shojo shook his head. This wasn't serving any purpose. "Forget it Miko, I forgive you."
"I… What?" she said uncertainly, as though she'd been asked what purple smelled like.
"I was breaking the law, even if not the way you thought, and you over-reacted. But I don’t hold it against you."
Miko seemed genuinely thunderstruck. "…Why?"
Shojo closed his eyes. Time, at last. "Because I'm your father."
The murmurs and sounds around the rest of the prison had died away, and everyone seemed to be pressing their faces as close as possible. A few cells down, the Halfling was gaping like a landed fish. Shojo waved his hand irritably. "Back off. This subplot has nothing to do with you."
Miko hadn't moved. She was blinking rapidly, her mouth moving, but no sound came out.
Shojo closed his eyes again. She probably deserves an explanation. "Your mother was young and beautiful, clever and charming, and I was lonely. She was one hell of a women, if she 'd have had me, I'd have begged her to marry me. She saw right through me, you know. Nobody else, even my family, ever managed that. At the end of the day, I'm as human as the next man, and I’d have to be made of stone not to have fallen in love with her."
Miko still hadn't said a word. Shojo went on, his tone curiously flat. He was not justifying himself, if he had regrets, that sue as hell wasn’t one of them. But he was sick of keeping secrets. And she had a right to know the truth, now that there was no reason to keep it silent. "I watched over you as best I could. I always wished we'd been closer, but, well, I didn’t dare recognise you as my daughter, give the nobles a way to get at me through you.”
Miko stared at him. Her eyes were slightly glassy, and her mouth was closed. She looked like a statue. It was probably shock, he decided.
“When I was inducted into the Saphire Guard…”
“I meant every word. You were destined for great things, I always knew it.”
Miko turned and looked at the wall. At last, she said blankly “Thank you. But it doesn’t mean anything.”
“Whether you are my father, or you’re playing games, or something else is going on, it doesn’t matter. You missed your chance to have an influence on my life. I don’t need, or want your advice. I am special, the Twelve gods have a plan for me. My parentage has no impact on my identity whatsoever.”
Shojo shook his head. “Miko, why do you always cut yourself of? Some people do want to help you.”
“My life is my own. I have no regrets.”
Shojo sighed. “You are the most righteous, uncompromising women I have ever known. But it takes more then devotion to duty. Being good isn’t about punishing the wicked, it’s about helping people even when it hurts you to do so. It’s about empathy, not about suffering.”
Miko’s expression didn’t change one iota. “I will think on what you have said.”
Shojo lay down atop his covers, and looked at the ceiling. “That’s all I ask, Miko. That’s all I ask.”