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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Strange Lands: The Kill Order, Blood Magic, and a Grave Situation

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"Oh my goodness!! I LOVED this book!!"
-- Katy

"Instantly ranking among the world's deadliest weapons is James Dashner's latest collection of dangerspeak The Kill Order." -- Justin
The prequel to the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series.
Before WICKED was formed, before the Glade was built, before Thomas entered the Maze, sun flares hit the earth and mankind fell to disease. Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and they survived. But surviving the sun flares was easy compared to what came next.

Now a disease of rage and lunacy races across the eastern United States, and there’s something suspicious about its origin. Worse yet, it’s mutating, and all evidence suggests that it will bring humanity to its knees.

Mark and Trina are convinced there’s a way to save those left living from descending into madness. And they’re determined to find it—if they can stay alive. Because in this new, devastated world, every life has a price. And to some, you’re worth more dead than alive.
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Congratulations to Miria, our grand prize winner for the Strange Lands Correspondent Contest. Miria wins an e-reader, a signed copy of Poison Tree by Amelia Atwaters-Rhodes, and will moderate a live video chat with Amelia and 10 other contest entrants! 10 runner ups also won a signed copy of Poison Tree and participate in the live video chat as well.
Check out the full list of winners!

"I haven't been able to look at a book the same way ever since I finished Scarlett Dedd." -- Caroline
Meet Scarlett Dedd. Scarlett is absolutely mortified (in more ways than one) to discover that she's accidentally killed herself trying to get out a school trip. Even worse, she's taken her entire family with her! Left in limbo, bored to death and fearing her friendless state is terminal, an ominous idea pops into Scarlett's head. Can Scarlett really execute her grim plan? Or will it turn out to be a fatal and very messy mistake?

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"There is not one single thing I would want changed, slowed down, altered, or deleted." -- Crystal
For Mab Prowd, the practice of blood magic is as natural as breathing. It's all she's ever known. Growing up on an isolated farm in Kansas with other practitioners may have kept her from making friends her own age, but it has also given her a sense of purpose—she's connected to the land and protective of the magic. And she is able to practice it proudly and happily out in the open with only the crows as her companions.
Mab will do anything to keep the ancient practice alive and guard its secrets. But one morning while she is working out a particularly tricky spell she encounters Will, a local boy who is trying to exorcise some mundane personal demons. He experiences Mab's magic in a way his mind cannot comprehend and is all too happy to end their chance meeting. But secrets that were kept from Mab by the earlier generations of blood magicians have come home to roost. And she and Will are drawn back together, time again by this dangerous force looking to break free from the earth and reclaim its own dark power.

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More Thrillers

Suck It Up And Die
by Brian Meele

She's now eighteen and he's stalled at sixteen--forever.

by Cyn Balog
In a life where there are no surprises, nothing has prepared Nick for what he's about to discover.

edited by Carrie Ryan
Have you ever been tempted to look into the future? To challenge predictions?

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by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Amy Goodnight's family is far from normal.
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Friday, September 07, 2012 Unfolding Justice's Blindfold - Part 2

Source Image for Basilica Vadisium Trial / Council Hall - Council of Trent

 Image source from web:

Someone is knocking on the cell door. Hard. Then a voice comes.
            ‘Robert Chandler! It’s time for the trial! Wake up and answer or we’ll use force!’
            Inside the dungeon cell, Robert stands up. It seems he has been awake for two hours after a brief sleep. He immediately answers, ‘Yes, I’m up and about. I’m ready whenever you are.’
            Then come a flash of light and a clattering sound of locks unlocking. That particular cell was magically locked with various enchantments and force fields. A mage, two monks and five guards stand by the door.
            ‘Hey, Chris! Wake up! It’s time!’
            Kyflynn tries to wake Chris up. When the latter won’t budge, the elf pokes his waist with such a jerk that makes Chris leap up in shock. The Valanisian officials have kept their swords and armors somewhere safe, but that’s not the problem for them.
            There are only Robert, Kyflynn, Andreas and Chris in that cell, because they put men and women in different cells.
            Here we go again, says Chris in his mind when they go into Room of Divine Judgment, the trial room of the Basilica Vadisium. The judges on high platforms, the high priests surrounding the room give Chris a chill, while Kyflynn looks confident and Robert as indifferent as ever. Robert, the main suspect is escorted to the lone seat in the middle of the room while the others join the women on the audience seats.
            Pope Matthaeus who acts as the Head Judge begins the trial and Cardinal Dulvenia gives a prolonged speech about the case which bores Chris greatly as it’s the same chronological blabbering he once heard, plus new reports with accounts of two attacks on Robert and Rael’charon, and MacLair’s involvement.
            ‘So,’ the Pope says to Robert. ‘On the charge of murdering Pope Xylen Felicitia, what do you plead?’
            ‘Not guilty, Your Grace,’ says the accused.
            ‘And the charge of consorting with pirates, killing the jailers in Vochaux, and hijacking an Arcadian ship, Le Partizane?’
            ‘Not guilty, Your Grace,’ says the accused once again.
            ‘Very well, then. Due to the little time we have, we move on to investigation reports and presentation of material evidences.’
            They begin the presenting the evidences from the crime scene, including the weapon of murder, Robert’s kiliji. The owner’s face doesn’t change at all on seeing that sword, as he knows by doing so he shall eventually get his sword back.
            Then comes Rael’charon, presenting all he has said during his investigation and...
            ‘There is something more I want to add. In the crime scene, as the report has stated, there are two broken vases on the table. The vases are so large and filled with dirt and plant, with a big symbol of the Right Way behind them. It looks like an altar for worship, but Vadisians never used large vases and plants in any altar I know of. Moreover, the vases were RECENTLY procured.
            So, my theory is, the vases were used to hold the sword horizontally, and Pope Xylen impaled her back on it. Then she staggered a bit, fell forward, and with her remaining strength she crawled, as though calling for help, then moved no more in the pool of her own blood.’
            Enraged, the hunchbacked Cardinal Ulbergis with a very long, white mustache bellows, ‘You mean, Counselor, the Most Holy, Late Pope Xylen took her own life?’
            ‘Yes,’ says Rael’charon.
            Pope Matthaeus’ anger flares up!
            ‘That’s NONSENSE! The wise, respected Pope, whose actions were examples for all Vadisians would never, in her right mind do that basest of atrocity!’
            So, Xylen must be in a messed-up mind, then, Chris thinks. And I think this Pope must also be in his right mind to control his emotions and set an example for all.
            As though he can read Chris’ mind, Pope Matthaeus constrains himself and talks normally again.
            ‘Nevertheless, this is still a court of Vadis’ law, and we shall not pass judgments until we confer and decide upon it. Then, let us proceed by hearing from witnesses.’
            The Head Judge asks Rael’charon to present his witnesses: Kyflynn, Desmond, Agustina, and himself, explaining about the attacks on Robert, and the questioning that resulted in King George’s trust in the man sitting in the middle of the room.
            Then, the witnesses from the Basilica Vadisium utter their statements. Female personal guards for the Pope, some monks and some nuns.
            ‘Yes, Your Grace. I saw Robert entering the Inner Circle by the Pope’s invitation. But, I think he and the Pope were engaged in an argument,’ Sister Solnii testifies.
            Cardinal Ulbergis comments, ‘What makes you think so? We want facts, Sister, not mere thoughts.’
            The freckle-faced nun responds, ‘That’s because when I saw Robert come out from the Pope’s room, he looked so hasty and distraught. That was what I see. And one more thing, he came in with two swords and went out missing one.’
            Rael’charon asks again, ‘Well, when you saw him coming out, did you see any blood? On his face, his body, feet, or hands?’
            ‘No, Counselor,’ says Sister Solnii.
            ‘So all in this room hear you.’
            ‘No, I didn’t see any blood anywhere on him. He broke sweat, all right, but not blood. No blood at all.’
            ‘Thank you, Sister Solnii,’ says Rael. Then, turning to the judges he says, ‘I have no more question for this witness, Your Grace.’
            ‘Very well. Sister Solnii, you may return to your seat,’ says the Pope. ‘Is there any more witness to present, Cardinal Ryddus?’
            Ryddus answers, ‘No, Your Grace. Sister Solnii is the last.’
            ‘Then we call upon the accused, Robert Chandler to stand up.’
            Robert does so, and then the Pope continues.
            ‘Robert Chandler, will you swear that all you are about to say is the truth and nothing by the truth, by Vadis?’
            Rob responds, ‘By Vadis, I swear.’
            ‘Very well. Now answer me straightforwardly: What were you doing in the Pope’s Chamber on the night of the murder?’
            ‘The Pope sent for me. She asked me to continue being her bodyguard – on a permanent basis. I told her I prefer to be a vagabond hunter and refused her offer. We argued a bit and then she finally gave up trying to persuade me, and I left.’
            ‘But then,’ says Cardinal Ryddus, holding up Robert’s letter – an evidence. ‘What made you run away from the Basilica, telling your friends to run away with you too? In this letter, you said, “The Pope can no longer be trusted!” What is the meaning of this?’
            Robert answers, ‘Pope Xylen has acted against my will. She insisted on keeping me near her for her own safety, though she instructed all Champions of Vadis to spread out, track down and eliminate the Heir of Vordac and his minions.
            My friends and I consented to guard the Pope until we eliminate the threat, then we would track down and fight the Heir elsewhere. So when she broke the deal, we can’t trust her anymore. I decided to leave, thinking that she could take care of herself with so many guards and enchantments around her.’
            ‘Objection’, says Cardinal Ulbergis. ‘If Robert must leave, he must do so with the Pope’s consent. No matter how great his distrust in the Pope was, he should’ve stayed. Running away is always a cowardly act, generated either by fear or in case, guilt. That’s your mistake, Robert Chandler. You should’ve stayed if you didn’t do anything wrong.’
            ‘To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t run if my father’s sword wasn’t missing. Something must’ve addled my mind. I’ve never been as careless as to leave my precious sword on someone else’s body. I was framed. The minute I realized that, I lost my trust in the Pope. I got to find help, then...’
            ‘... You ran,’ says Pope Matthaeus. ‘Robert, don’t you know about the rule in the court? Always let the Head Judge speak first, then he will ask for your opinion if necessary.’
            ‘If I didn’t do that, I doubt you would ask me about that subject again and prejudiced me as guilty. Sorry, but I can’t let it happen.’
            ‘INSOLENCE!’ the Pope roars. ‘How dare you insult the credibility of Vadis’ Court of Law? Executor! Give him twenty lashes as punishment!’
            The Court Executor walks to the center, tears Robert’s shirt by the back and starts lashing Robert with his whip. Robert tries not to scream in pain, but starting from the eleventh lash, his pain is so unbearable as he screams. Well, it’s better than being decapitated, though.
            Eighteen... Nineteen... Twenty...
            And the Executor leaves Robert kneeling there, numb with pain and blood all over his newly-scarred back. Rael didn’t help Robert to avoid lashing, but now he moves forward. He speaks to Robert loudly.
             ‘Robert, why didn’t you say it? Why didn’t you tell them that you ran from Pope Xylen to save her face?’
            ‘Save her face from what, Counselor?’ the Pope apparently hears that.
            ‘Robert said to me that Pope Xylen not only wanted him as a full time bodyguard, but also a pet to satisfy her lust!’
            ‘PREPOSTEROUS! UTTER NONSENSE! BLASPHEMY! The Most Holy Pope Xylen always lived in chastity! She even forbade men to touch her fingertip! Touching a strand of her blue hair could result in excommunication! Tell us, Robert! Did you really tell such thing to anyone?’
            ‘I’ve tried not to disclose it, Your Grace,’ says Rob, ‘But yes, like I’ve said to Counselor Rael, Pope Xylen tried to seduce me when she couldn’t persuade me. But since I can’t prove it, I decided not to mention it in this court.’

Inspiration source for Medieval Trial with the Pope and the Cardinals -

            ‘But you did mention it to Rael’charon, although you can’t prove it,’ Father Ryddus argues.
            ‘Because Counselor Rael’charon is my friend. I told him also that I can’t prove it, but he encouraged me to mention it in trial.’
            ‘Permission to speak, Your Grace,’ says Rael’charon.
            ‘Granted. Go on, Counselor,’ says the Head Judge.
            ‘I’d like to call Sister Solnii to the witness booth once again,’ says the elf. ‘I have a few more questions to ask her.’
            The request is granted at once, and as Sister Solnii sits in the booth, Rael’charon asks, ‘Sister Solnii, when you saw Pope Xylen’s body, what was she wearing? What else was on her except the sword?’
            ‘She was wearing her night gown, Sir,’ says Solnii. ‘Her favorite thin, silk aquamarine gown. But honestly, I didn’t like to see her in it.’
            ‘Because she turned into somebody else, not the decent-looking Pope we all revered, but rather like – Vadis forgive me – a courtesan. Her behavior was strange, too. I once found her caressing herself in her room, and she made me swear not to tell anyone about it. Her beauty treatment was also extreme: milk bath, skin care using rare materials, and expensive cosmetics.’
            Cardinal Ulbergis cuts in, ‘You have been given one question, but you talked so much about your mistress’... peculiarities. Do you realize the outcome of your blabbering?’
            ‘I do, Your Grace. I am being disloyal to the Holy Mother, and deserve punishment from Vadis. But if my sacrifice can save a man from being wrongly prosecuted, it will bring peace to my soul.’
            The Head Judge dismissed Sister Solnii back to her audience seat, and addresses the prosecutor, Cardinal Ryddus, ‘Has the prosecutor prepared his final argument?’
            ‘Yes, I have,’ says Ryddus.
            ‘And has the defendant prepared his final argument?’
            ‘Yes, I have,’ says Rael.
            ‘So, the Court now calls for the prosecutor to deliver his argument.’
            Ryddus begins, ‘Holy Father, esteemed Judges and defendant, and everybody present in this court, we’ve just seen the most excellent effort to convince everyone that this man, the accused, Robert Chandler didn’t commit the crime of murdering Pope Xylen Felicitia. Some of the witnesses, especially Sister Solnii, stated that Robert met, and quarreled with the Pope. Then he came out missing a sword and ran away, telling his friends to do the same because “the Pope can’t be trusted”. Then, he was arrested in Vochaux, escaped from prison, hijacked an Arcadian ship with help of the pirate Sheena Mekh’ta. Then, he resisted arrest from our agents, luring them into duels and defeated them.
            So tell me, are these not the acts of crime? The acts befit the Heir of Vordac? The witnesses may claim that MacLair was behind the recent attacks on Robert, but isn’t it possible that Robert is in league with MacLair himself? All evidences clearly point that Robert murdered Pope Xylen Felicitia with cold blood, without doubt. 
            Therefore, I recommend the court to pass on punishment according to the laws of Vadis. Robert must pay his crime, and the penalty is death. That will be all.’
            ‘Thank you, Brother Ryddus,’ says the Pope. ‘Now the court calls for Counselor Rael’charon to present his defense.’
            Rael steps forward and stands confidently near Robert and speaks with loud yet gentle voice.
            ‘Your Grace, the esteemed Judges, Prosecutor, and dear audience. As we can see here, we are led to believe in material evidences and everything our eyes can see. This is rather disturbing, since material evidences can be used to bend justice, cover tracks and make a scapegoat out of others. Vadis himself realized it. Written in His Holy Scripture, Imla Vadis: “Matters, mutters and magicks can be altered, but the truth always lies in heart.” Then, in his other words, “Behavior is the reflection of the heart.”
            In this case, according to the witnesses, someone has mesmerized Robert, took his sword and used it to kill the Pope. The broken vases and trail of blood were fabricated as signs of struggle. But what of Robert’s behavior? A witness you presented here, a warden from Vochaux claimed that Robert just knocked the jailers out. Many guards Robert fought claimed so. Sheena hijacked a ship, yes, but Robert was only a passenger. He fought Adler and Hernan and spared their lives. He ran away from Valanis to Lore. It was all because he knew he was being framed. He ran to save the Pope’s face and to seek help – my help. And after I consented to help him, he went back here, all prepared.
            If he indeed killed the Pope, he wouldn’t be as foolish as to leave his possessions or marks of his identity in the crime scene, and he would not run, but stays on and played the hero instead. Knowing full well of his behavior, Vordac would disown his heir on any sign of foolishness and disobedience, and left him soulless. Moreover, if Robert killed the Pope as a minion, he would end up dead, silenced by the Heir, MacLair, or other minions.
            All in all, we recommend the court to free Robert Chandler of all charges. Let us not pass judgment with eyes, but with heart. Eyes can deceive you, but heart holds the truth. Vadis once said, “My worldly being will be gone, you will not see me anymore. However, if you believe, you will find that I’ll still be around, watching you with Mother Enia, and bringing balance to this world with Father Adair. I’ll be by your side from now on until forever.” May Vadis and Enia bless you and bring you true justice!’
             The Pope concludes, ‘Very well. Now the three of us will confer upon this matter in a separate room. We shall come up with a verdict when we are done. Please remain on your seats.’
            Now comes the hardest part: Robert, Rael, the witnesses and the rest of the audience are waiting for more than three hours for the three judges: Matthaeus, Dulvenia and Ulbergis to reach the verdict. One may go to the bathroom in turns and under heavy guard. The trial must end today, no postponing. Everybody is waiting there with mixtures of anxiety, worry and boredom. Will the judges see things with their hearts? Or strictly by the book and through tamper-able evidences? You may wish that the fingerprint system was invented that time, so everything would be much simpler.
            Nearing the fourth hour of waiting, the judges come in from the back door and climb back to their high platforms. The Head Judge looks very irritated yet keeps himself composed as he starts talking loudly.
            ‘Holy Court of Vadis, brothers, sisters in Vadis. We, the judges have conferred, summarized the facts and testimonials we’ve gathered, and now we’ve reached the verdict. The accused please stand up from your seat.’
            Robert stands up, and the Pope continues.
            ‘Robert Chandler, we’ve acquired evidences that you’ve killed the Pope, yet behavioral facts stated that you wanted to save the Pope’s face and find help instead. Your presence and cooperation here put some weight off the charge, but your resistance to arrest and your act of piracy are disturbing. So, by putting Rael’charon’s crime scene theory into account, we’ve concluded that someone very powerful must’ve addled Robert’s mind, stole his sword, killed the Pope with it and went away, unseen and undetected. We can assume it was MacLair, but he has paid for his other crimes with his untimely death.
            Therefore, we declare Robert Chandler free from the charge of murder of Pope Xylen Felicitia on grounds of insufficient evidence.
            However, on his acts of jail break and consorting with pirates, Robert is found guilty and therefore, his hunting license is revoked, permanently. He will be banned in all hunter guilds in the entire Continent of Aurelia. He may hunt for his needs, but neither mission nor money will he get from hunter guilds.
            About the accusation of being an Heir of Vordac, Robert’s aura and behavior don’t show any sign of it. However, people may come and check upon you from time to time. Should anyone proves that you’re really the Heir, all Aurelia will fight you until the Dark Overlord perish completely. Robert’s sword will be returned to its rightful owner.
            Thus spoken and stated by the will of Vadis, the Almighty, the Right Way.’
            After delivering their verdict, the judges descend from their platforms and leave the Trial Hall through the back door. Some of the witnesses and audience also leave the room, leaving Robert in the center, still standing there. His face shows neither happiness nor relief, just as cold and expressionless as ever.
            Robert’s friends come forward to congratulate him.
            Seeing Robert’s face, Rael’charon pats his shoulder, saying, ‘At least it’s not a total loss. Anyways, you are a Knight of Order of Lions now, not a monster hunter anymore.’
            Carolyn adds, ‘Are you being sad because we can’t hunt together anymore?’
            Robert shakes his head, saying, ‘I’m happy, sad, angry and relieved at the same time. How can I express them altogether? I owe Rael’charon my thanks for helping me all the way here, and you all for testifying.
            Looks like I’m going to miss you all. I’m going back to Lore to serve My King and country. Chris, you also have duties as the Prince of Arcadia now. Be strong, be wise, be just, and be careful. Always discipline yourself in your sword training, because from the first time we met I knew you will exceed me, Your Highness.’
            ‘Oh, shucks, Rob. For me, you will always be my good teacher,’ Cristophe replies.
            ‘Carol, your magic is much advanced now, with Aegis the Thunder Bird on your side. You also talk less and act more, and always resourceful. For that, I admire you.’
            Carol blushes on hearing that, replying, ‘And I to you, Rob. You have undergone such hardships and now Vadis smiles upon you.’
            Robert nods and turns to Iris. ‘Iris, you are less show-off now and more serious. Maybe love has changed you.’
            Iris just nods and stares towards Chris, but her face looks gloomy.
            ‘Father Andreas, please watch over them all for me.’
            ‘Aye. Will do, laddie,’ says Andreas.
            Kyflynn says to Rob, ‘I, Desmond and Tina will be going with you to Lore. I think more exciting things will happen by staying in the same city with you. If you should need us, just call upon us, and we’ll gladly help you.’
            ‘Thanks, Flynn. Now I know that I can trust you,’ Robert replies. ‘Well, this is the point where we go separate ways. Take care, my friends, and may Vadis watch over you.’

Navigation: Unfolding Justice's Blindfold - Part 1

The Goddess of Justice - (Old Gods Parthenian - Justitia) Unfolding Justice’s Blindfold

            ‘Justice is blind.
                        Even though we unfolded her blindfold and restored her sight,
                                                She’s still blind.’         
- Garth the Golden Bear,
King of Halethia, Chairman of Regia Confederation

            Rael’charon’s group treks on safely and leaves Wyrmspine Pass after about an hour walk through the last kilometer of the ravine.
            Father Andreas Marvellini then checks on Kyflynn’s condition. Night elves are amazing indeed. This one, like the others, adapts well to magic and helps it to be more effective. Plus, his body heals naturally three times quicker than human’s. So, although still weak and leaning on Desmond’s back, Kyflynn is fully conscious.
            Andreas asks him, ‘How are you feeling now?’
            The elf answers, ‘That last stab really messed my system. Normally, it took days to recover from a wound like this, but thanks to your treatment, my life is saved and I’m conscious again now.’
            ‘Praise Vadis it is so. And we thank you for helping us defeat MacLair and his dark elves. We are deeply indebted to you.’
            ‘Aah, it’s nothing, really. Actually, we did that to save our own asses. You see, a mysterious guy hired us to hunt Robert and Rael’charon, no questions asked. I insisted on the reason as my principle demanded, and he said Robert is the Pope’s murderer and Rael’charon is his aide. I decided to check first and he “reminded” me of the Assassin’s Code. When I attacked Robert, I found no trace of him being the Heir or the Pope’s murderer. So I pretended to fail, and withdrew.
            Then, when MacLair mentioned about the Code, I know for sure that the mysterious man must be him or his goon. If I didn’t kill him, he will hunt me down. So, good riddance.’ Kyflynn ends his explanation with a weak smile.
            ‘So, what are your plans now?’
            ‘I think we’d better stick around for awhile. With my rival gone, it would be nice for us to make up with Robert by helping him out, wouldn’t it, Ed?’
            Ed, also known as Desmond Edmundsen answers, ‘Right-o, partner.’
            Rael’charon nods on hearing that, and Robert doesn’t seem to mind.


            The rest of the journey to Ascension, capital of Valanis is uneventful. The monsters are afraid of large group of people with powerful auras. Though their wounds are almost recovered, two days after leaving Wyrmspine Pass, the group still shows grim faces, hardly talking to each other.
            They arrive in Ascension on the third day and twelve elite guards escort them to Basilica Vadisium. They take a longer route through alleys and shortcuts to avoid crowds – An angry mob can be the worst judge who punish without evidence.
             The Vadisian monks inside the Basilica act more civil to Robert and his friends, even showing them the way to the meeting chamber and informing the Pope and Cardinals at once.
            Cardinal Ryddus, the balding Cardinal with long, brown beard meets them in the main chamber. ‘Thank Vadis. Finally, Robert Chandler comes here willingly after all our efforts to apprehend him. I see you brought lots of company here.’
            ‘Yes, Your Grace,’ says Rael. ‘I’m here as Robert’s defendant to investigate his case. The Emperor of Arcadia sent Chris, Carolyn and Iris under Father Andreas’ supervision to make sure whether Robert is Vordac’s Heir or not and act accordingly. And Kyflynn, Agustina and Desmond are here as witnesses.’
            ‘Witnesses, you say? Well, you really have done extensive preparations, Counselor. The first hearing will be held tomorrow at dawn. Before so, Counselor Rael and Father Andreas will investigate the crime scene and Robert will be confined in the dungeon, fourth level. The rest will stay in the dormitory.’
            ‘Pardon me for saying this,’ says Cristophe. ‘But we would like to accompany Robert in the dungeon, giving him the support he needs.’
            ‘Very well, then. To the dungeon you go. May Vadis’ justice shine upon us.’
            So, that night the lowest level of the dungeons becomes a cheerful place, with sounds of people praying, singing, merry-making and supporting each other.


            Meanwhile, Rael’charon, Father Andreas, Cardinal Ryddus, two nuns and two monks are in the crime scene: the late Pope Xylen’s chamber. The site is – as per the Aurelian Convention of Justice – exactly like in the time of the crime. Nothing except the victim’s body has been moved, even the debris of the broken vase and the dried blood stains on the marble floor.
            The Cardinal explains, ‘We have scanned this area with magic, Counselor Rael, and found traces of dark energy around. We also found dark energy on the sword, if you may observe.’
            A monk goes forward and presents a wrapped sword to Rael. He unfolds the sword, and here it is: Robert’s kiliji. Weapon of murder.
            Rael touches its blade. He closes his eyes, his long ears flutter. His fingers run from the tip to the hilt. Then, he opens his eyes and says, ‘Yes. There is still a trace of dark energy, but it’s so faint because the energy was channeled one time only. However, I also found a more powerful fire energy that dominates all – which, I believe, come from Robert himself.
            I say we must run a check on Robert too. We need to know whether he has dark aura and how long he has it for.’
            ‘Very well, then,’ says Ryddus. ‘Now, in what manner Pope Xylen was slain?’
            The elf stares at the death spot for a while, then around the room. Then he smiles and turns to the nuns.
            ‘Who among you saw Pope Xylen dead first?’ Rael asks.
            ‘It’s me, Solnii, Counselor,’ the freckle-faced nun answers. ‘Sister Nabelia was also with me, but I was the first.’
            ‘In what position Pope Xylen lay? Tell me in detail.’
            ‘She lay face-down with that sword,’ indicating the kiliji, ‘sticking on her back. I think she was stabbed from behind.’
            ‘Right, just as the autopsy statement. It’s simply the basic of stealth-killing. But again, let’s check this blood pattern. Blood started running out fifty centimeters from the table, then went inline about twenty centimeters more and ended on the pool here. The Pope must’ve used her last strength to crawl and call for help before she moved no more.          
            However, I see lots of blood sprinkling on the table. This is odd. No matter how powerful a stab is, the blood wouldn’t spray very far, especially when the stabber was right behind her, using a big sword. The blood must’ve sprinkled on him.’
            ‘So, you’re saying that Robert is not the Pope Killer?’ says Ryddus.
            ‘Innocent until proven guilty, Your Grace.’
            ‘Oh, of course,’ says Ryddus. ‘Let’s put all judgment in the trial tomorrow, and may Vadis show Justice the way.’
            Rael’charon doesn’t give any attention to the Cardinal’s words and stares at the table. His mind is racing and a smile curls on his mouth.

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