The Hall of Judgment was packed to the hilt. The news of a trial of followers of the Pahadiwale Baba had drawn even the Ascetics out of their high towers. Lord Beavis surveyed the room, as if it was the audience for a grand performance. Which in a way, it was.
Right at front, sat the accused. Lady Dita Rain, silent as a churchmouse. Percy Wallgay, a worried look on his face. Acolyte Bridge, looking curiously unbothered, fiddling on a glamour-screen that was showing moving pictures of an 18thcentury family. Raul M’Ghane, sitting slumped in his chair. And Guildmaster Chingol, staring daggers at Lord Beavis.
On the other side stood the prosecuting lawyer, Kranu Aves, a largish bumbling mope who Lord Beavis had picked especially for the task of trying to incriminate the accused.
All the way at the back, a haughty woman in grey, stood archly, observing everything. Her face was set in a grim frown. She was the Prober, Apnas. As the Ascetics’ Overseer, it was her role to make sure everything went smoothly.
The bailiff stood and started yelling
“Order in the Hall of Judgment. All rise as the Honorary High Judge approaches.”
A man of short stature, clad in the long dark robes and the red and black cloth mask of an Ascetic Judge, climbed onto the dais at the head of the hall, and seated himself on a large chair. The Ascetic Judges always maintained anonymity to ensure safety for the judges, while simultaneously making it impossible to identify or corrupt any of them. Another practice that had made Farcrace the efficient town it was.
Lord Beavis looked around the hall once again. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a slender, willowy young woman, clad in fine raiment, creep in to the hall and seat herself at the back. He smiled and motioned to the lawyer to commence the proceedings.
The trial began in earnest. Everyone knew the case was loaded against the accused, but most wanted to see the punishment they would get for their insubordinance. The defending lawyer, Paisal, tried his best, but with the fact that Lord Beavis himself had turned the accused over, even Aves couldn’t mess it up. And soon, it was time for the High Judge to announce his judgement.
“Keeping in mind, the fact that these citizens have tried to revolt against the Ascetics, and tried to overthrow the established order, this Hall of Judgment finds the defendants…”
The door burst open, and a man ran in, pointing wildly at the windows, screaming.
“The Mosali horde! They’ve attacked us. They’re at the gates. Farcrace is under attack.”
Lord Beavis smiled mischievously and said to himself, “Act One.”
Everyone in the hall, the judge included, flocked to the windows, all memory of the trial forgotten for the moment. What they saw outside shocked them.
A large number of riders were headed towards the town, riding ponies and other assorted farm animals. The dust they kicked up covered the entire horizon.They were clothed in all manner of colours but their arms all had bands with a small dark stick-figure painted on; the symbol of the Mosali.
Voices broke out in the hall all at once.
“At that rate, they’ll be here any minute…”
“I want pancakes…”
“How are there so many of them?”
“This is the Pahadiwale Baba’s wrath come down upon us.”
Everyone turned away to look at the person who had yelled. It was a tall, thin man, dressed simply, except that his face was obscured by a shifting, floating black smoke. His voice rose again as he spoke.
“Whatever you may think, this is not the Baba’s doing. He wishes naught but prosperity for the town of Farcrace. The Baba’s way is the way of booze, not blood.”
Someone spoke up.
“How could you know that? Who are you?”
“I am he, the Mountaintop Mendicant. I am the Pahadiwale Baba.”
A murmur ran through the crowd as they wondered at this incredible, and frankly suicidal, declaration. Another voice arose.
“Arrest that man!” The Prober yelled in her shrill voice.
“You may do that, but know this. The Mosali horde outside will destroy you. However, if you let me, I can summon my guard, and we will defend this city till our dying breath. It is your choice.”
Lord Beavis thought it prudent to step in.
“What do you mean? Are you threatening us?”
“I’m merely informing you of the facts, good Lord. I wish no harm to this town. But I do not wish to work against the will of the Ascetics. I am on your side.”
Lord Beavis, the shock apparent on his face, turned to look at the Prober, who seemed even more flabbergasted. She hesitated imperceptibly, as her mind worked through all the possibilities. If what this man said was true, there would be no rebellion. But if she didn’t do anything about it, there would be no city to rebel against. She locked eyes with Lord Beavis and nodded.
“I’ll allow it. But you better know what you’re doing.” With that, the Prober strode out of the hall to prepare the city’s defenses.
Lord Beavis smiled grimly before looking at the man who called himself the Mountaintop Mendicant.
“What do we do now, Baba?”
In response, the man waved his hands and the air in from of him began to shimmer. Several wavy shapes began to appear in front of him, and the other people in the room backed away slowly. The first of the shapes resolved itself into a tall, lanky man.
“Where’s the fire?” EnPsyClops said, a wide grin on his face.