Completed Disgrace of the Damned

Lazlo Harkon

"Lord" of Carrion Gulch
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Eleven years ago, Four Years after Quartreville, Vel Anir

Lazlo Harkon was a dead man.

He hadn't eaten in twelve days, or drank water in seven. His eyes were sunken and haunted, and his hair was disheveled. Yet, when the jailer shuffled across the room and unlatched his door, he looked upwards.

Four dreadlords. Each with powerful wards enacted. One was an Archon.

"It ain't right, sir," said the Warden, looking onwards. Rotten bread and spoiled soup sat around the disheveled man in the cell, "He's not supposed to be alive, but all he does is stare..."

Lazlo would be impressed if he wasn't so depressed. As it stood, the spirits whispering that he needed to stand, needed to run, was just enough to bring him stumbling upwards. His lips were chapped in dry, his mouth was full of sand... his head struggled to lift, though he managed.

The warden was horrified. His knees shook, while the unease in the junior dreadlords was palpable. Only the Archon seemed unintimidated... though he was clearly fully alert.

"We will take it from here. You have done your part, Warden," came the reply. This was like a lead weight, sinking down an endless well.

Commander sir, whispered the spirits, Run, sir. Go!

Lazlo stumbled forwards, knees buckling.

"Today's the trial," announced the Archon, the only one capable of speaking at this emaciated, forgotten hero, "it's time to answer for your crimes, Harkon."

The Dreadlords moved forwards; they were the only ones brave enough to touch Lazlo, able to magically ward off the supernatural fear that radiated from the possessed man. Both arms held, Lazlo was practically dragged out of his cell. He stumbled, trying to stay steady, trying to keep up. The cobbles were soft and moved away from his feet, pushed like leaves across a pond. Colors swam and suddenly pain flooded his being.

Sunlight, for the first time in four years, touched him. He couldn't see, shut his eyes. He wanted to cry, wanted to yell out. Mercy was something he had been denied, and now he was to be crucified even further to exonerate the guilty. He couldn't even open his eyes to see his Vel Anir one last time, too bright was the sun.

When the brightness diminished and Lazlo could see once more, he was in an unfamiliar room. It was grand, gold and color and marble and incense. It was a high court.

"Lazlo Harkon," called down the cold voice of a judge, an authority on his fate. That the charges against him were false did not matter; "You stand accused of Treason, Sedition, Concealing Magic from the State, Consorting with the enemy, and of the unforgivable offense of Necromancy."

The court, as he looked around, had few familiar faces. Even less, friendly. This was his jury? Countrymen who did not know him, who did not serve, did not see? It had taken his beloved homeland four years to prepare this trial, pruning the jury and judge til only the most suitable would be picked. Waited until his deeds and acts were forgotten by other, more trivial matters.

"Submit your plea," came the command. For the first time, voice hoarse from lack of use and raw thirst, the ruined, pathetic man offered only one word:

"Why?"

He could manage no more, whispered as it was. The court grumbled, some sighing in pity, others red with rage.

"Your crimes," explained the judge, irate, "committed during the so-called 'Battle of Carrion Gulch', where you did purposefully and with intent command you regiments into a deathtrap. Where you did so instruct the Dreadlord in your command to utilize Dark Magic, and at their refusal, utilized your own unlawful potential. Where you did, through your ignorance and failure as a magician, conjured Hellfire that still burns, to this day, in Cortos!"

That wasn't how it had happened... he had been ordered. There was a Dreadlord, but they were away. They had left to persue something else, taking a full three divisions with them, despite orders by the General. He had followed orders, he had protected his soldiers, he had tried to stop the Hellfire himself...

And it was being framed solely upon him.

Lazlo Harkon was an innocent man; anyone there, despite his hidden magic, would have vouched for him. He was a member of the Guard, he was a hero, with several campaigns to his name. He had served diligently. And yet...

"No," was all he said. It was his plea. It was his only response to this. Despair sagged on him, the weight of the dead pressing down on him like an avalanche of corpses.

"Very well. I call forwards the first witness: Speak now on the nature of his crimes, and the weight of his wrong doing," commanded the judge. Lazlo looked over; he couldn't make out this figure. The light was still too bright.

The trial of Lazlo Harkon, celebrated war hero, scapegoat, and a man possessed by the dead, had begun. He would have all manner of slander, of exaggerated traits, of false charges thrown against him. All of it backed by fabricated evidence and the words of Dreadlords.

Lazlo Harkon was a dead man.
 
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Donric Mannir

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Donric gulped as he entered the courtroom. He had known this day was coming for years. It had weighed heavily on him every day since. Frequently he woke in terror. Night sweats, sleep paralysis, nightmares and flashbacks of the dead plagued him. That incessant black fire swirled around him - endlessly. Worse still, worse than the death and the horror he had witnessed, was the conspiracy. The cover-up. The lying.

You expected it from the Houses. You expected it within Vel'Anir, but not the Guard. Never the Guard. He had been pestered by many ranking commanders, many veterans - all of whom had not been at Carrion Gulch - telling Donric what he had seen. What he should say. Yet he wouldn't buckle. None of the Gulch crew would. Although there were scant few of them left.

In the years since the battle, those who survived the Gulch had been relocated to the Northern Army. A few palms had been greased and they'd been given the worse, the most dangerous, the most suicidal postings. Many had died. Each death in gruesome combat, far above their station. Some had left the guard before it got to them, always they did so dishonourably. Somehow, someone painted their character, altered their records, each one who left the Guard - as was their right - was stricken off and discredited. Those who stayed were kept at the lowest rung of the Army. Never venturing above standard infantry, being passed for every promotion. The Gulchers were social pariahs.

Death, or dishonour. The only way out of this situation. Those that remained, Donric included, grew tougher from it. It made their resilience, their determination grow stronger. They would not be broken, they owed Lazlo that much. While their situation wasn't ideal, they were alive because of him. They had suffered, but they could live their lives.

Today, he would return that favour.

Donric was led to the stand. A small cramped room unfolded before him. The trial was exclusive, it was behind closed doors. He knew what he said mattered little. He knew the outcome was decided. But his honour held out, he wanted Lazlo to know the Gulchers hadn't forgotten him, the Guard protected its' ranks - it always did.

"Do you, Donric Mannir, swear in the name of the King, to abide by Anirian Law and Statute. That the words you speak are true and accurate?"

"Ay- Yes sir, I do. I swear." He breathed. Looking out across the small selected crowd that had been allowed to attend. His eyes casting over towards the jury box beside him. Donric looked almost comical in his polished home-guard armour. A young-faced veteran decorated in the traditional colourful, frilly, peacock feather armour that was custom.

"So, Mr Mannir... In your own words, tell me about the Battle of Carrion Gulch?" The man, Donric wasn't sure who he was nor his role in the matter was a bloated man who certainly hadn't spent any time in the Guard. His voice was venomous and cold and his beady eyes dismissed the Donric as human dirt.

"Uh... Well... Sir. We were engaging the enemy in the usual fashion, we'd been given a briefing that it was a routine engagement - their mages were elsewhere protecting the coast - and we'd been depleted several divisions by the overseeing Dreadlord. We were a skeleton crew, but our target was meant to be half our size..." He faltered. He remembered the screaming of his comrades, his mentor aflame by one of the enemy mages.

"They were ready for us. The territory was warded against us. Their mages attacked our forces and we had no Dreadlord to answer - nor the troops to overwhelm. Commander Lazlo herded us into a wedge formation - whatever was left of us - and rallied us together. He saved us. We fought where we were told, we did as he did. We survived. The Guard lived thanks to him." Donric motioned to say more, but he didn't. The Gulchers would refuse to acknowledge Lazlo used magic. He was one of them, they would turn a blind eye for him. They would refute any and every allegation his way.

Donric's superiors shot daggers at him, he squirmed somewhat. A weight lifted from his shoulder, he nodded towards Lazlo. As if to say thanks, we'll take it from here. He breathed. A few other questions followed, but Donric was prepared, each time he refuted the question effortlessly.

Four years in the making, the Gulchers hadn't forgotten. The Gulchers had been preparing.
 
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Sullivan

Might Makes Right
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Sullivan Weiroon was a name that almost everyone in Vel Anir knew. He was the younger brother of Sebastian Weiroon who currently presided as the Lord of the Great House. But, unlike his portly older brother, Sullivan was in peak physical shape. Large muscles not from any combat experience but simply from weight training. Slick, non-graying, facial hair which was styled in the popular fashion of the day. His outfits were always elaborate and impressive looking. And his obscene wealth, well, all of this combined to make for one of the most eligible bachelors in Anirian society.

He had not, directly, witnessed the events of Carrion Gulch though he had been to Cortos to see the hellfires on more than one occasion. His family's financial holdings there were prosperous and important for smooth trade throughout the region. He had plenty of Gulchers who'd agree with the testimony he was about to supply plus the dreadlord in question was in his pocket. Whether Lazlo Harkon was guilty of the crimes or not mattered little, his hope was to drag the Harkon name through the mud and have their property forfeited.
It had been awhile since a proper Weiroon acquisition took place.

"Your honor, Sullivan Weiroon, Chief Financier of House Weiroon," the voice of the court official called out as the women in the court swooned at the sight of such a fantastically attractive witness. Or, so Sullivan thought.

"Your honor," the nobleman said with a slight bow and a grin at the judge. He was well acquainted with Judge Adikia. The two often played cards, mostly poker, until the wee hours of the morning. A few years ago, for a completely separate case, House Weiroon purchased a vineyard for the judge. He'd always wanted to grow his own grapes, craft his own batch of wine. The stuff he made was horrendous, unsurprisingly, but Weiroon had gotten the verdict they wanted so it proved to be a sound investment.

The court read Sullivan a similar spiel as the one they had for other witnesses and though his answers were curt and direct the baron barely paid attention until it was time for him to weave his tale. "Ladies and gentlemen of the court, I expect many of you know who I am. What the Great House of Weiroon stands for, the prosperity we bring to each and every one of you. But, I must assure you that deep down I am just a very simple, ordinary, man. A proud Anirian just like every one of you in this court," Sullivan rose to his feet and stretched his arms wide to either side. It was unlikely the court would order him to retake his seat. He was a noble from one of the Seven Great Houses afterall. "So, when I heard of the tragedy at Carrion Gulch, of our valiant boys and girls in the Guard being butchered by cruel magics... when I heard of hellfires warping and twisting the beautiful shores of Cortos... well I..." Crocodile tears were a useful thing, especially for a situation like this.

He retrieved a handkerchief from his suit jacket and dabbed at both of his leaky eyes before continuing, "I knew that I had to do something. First thing I do is interrogate the dreadlord on assignment. Foul magics afoot? Must be a rogue dreadlord. I think all Anirians would be thinking the same thing." Sullivan then collapsed into his chair and appeared exhausted. As if recalling the harrowing memory was draining his very soul. In an annoyed tone he continued his testimony, "imagine my surprise when the dreadlord tells me the vermin at House Harkon had been hiding magic from the honest, hardworking, folk of Vel Anir. He tells me the true tale of Carrion Gulch. Our Guard had the enemy routed, what a mighty force our lads are, until the Harkon man cast a vast deluge of dark sorceries. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I just couldn't believe it. Sounded insane to a simple man like myself."

Sullivan removed his hat and combed back his hair. A woman, whom he had paid prior to entering court, cried out, "my boy died at Carrion Gulch, tell us what happened!" A bang of a Akidia's gavel, an issuance of order, but the jury seemed transfixed on the story.

"I'm in Cortos often, for business you know, I am a very important man. This dreadlord tells me he saw Lazlo create a torrent of vile magics that shredded the coasts. I went there, saw it for myself, confirmed the dreadlord's story. Heartbreaking." And now, he thought, was time for the finale, "Judge Akidia, I can't help but ask myself... why would House Harkon conceal some mage? We have clear rules in Vel Anir about this. And, unfortunately, their reckless actions and the bloodthirsty mind of the accused before you will serve as a reminder of why we have these laws in place."

Sullivan stood, this time to take his leave should the court permit it. "We can't trust rogue mages or their vile magics."
 
E

Elise Virak

Recently widowed Elise Virak sat within one of the upper balconies marked out specifically for the Nobility of the Great Houses.

She wore a loose dress of all black, her hair was tied up, and the jewelry she had donned was decidedly muted. This was the first time she had been seen in public since the death of her short lived Husband. There had been a few gasps as she entered, but her father had thought it a suitable place.

House Virak surprisingly had taken a stance against the actions surrounding the Battle of Carrion Gulch. Not for any moral reasons of course, but because of the tactical stupidity of it all. None of the Dreadlords who had abandoned the Guard were of House Virak, and thus her father had at the time seen this entire debacle as a political move.

During the cover up and talks around the situation many elements of the Guard had of course been backed entirely by her House.

The Patriarch of House Virak had never tried to save Lazlo Harkon of course, that would be an impossible task, but Elise's father had done his best to preserve both the Guard and what men he could. A great count of those who'd survived the battle had ended up within their House Guard.

That was always how it worked, the only way that House Virak 'helped' the people.

It was what had won them such acclaim from the Anirian Guard, why the other Houses were so weary to challenge the Death of her Husband.

Who would want to run head first into a spear?

Elise shifted in her chair as she looked down into the gallery, listening as Sullivan Weiroon began to speak. She would not be testifying today, there was no reason to. Her only job was to sit and watch, to play the part of the Widow whose only sons were the Anirian Guard.
 

Zana

Second Level
Dreadlords
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"This is wrong."

Janus stopped in his slow walk towards the front of the growing crowd, for he was due to speak next, and turned to his young ward. He grabbed her by the arm and then hurled her to the shadowy sides of the hall, crouching down so that their faces were level. Her hazel eyes were such an unnerving colour yet he always struggled to look away from them. It was like she could see into his very soul. It was debatable she could, her powers were still growing.

"Zana listen to me," the girl stubbornly looked at her boots until he grabbed her by the chin harshly and yanked her head up. "The truth will get you killed." Tears began to form in her eyes but she didn't cry, knew the punishment for showing such weakness.

"But I-I told you so you could make it stop. I told you so this wouldn't happ-!" The slap across her face stung and turned the whole of one side of her face red with the force of it. She shakily put a hand up and held her tongue. The beginnings of a budding hatred blossomed there. Janus welcomed it. Hate would make her stronger. Gently he covered her hand with his and rubbed over her battered cheek. He sighed. The gentleness confused her and he was pleased again.

"I saved as many as I could Zana. I couldn't go running into the War Room and tell them I had some mysterious information that showed our intel was outdated and wrong. That the forces who we were meant to face on the field were suddenly double what we had been told and that it was a hopeless war. They would have asked me who my source was Zana and they would have found you. Do you understand what the other Houses would do to you if they knew about your gifts?"

Zana stood there in stunned silence then her gaze slowly peeled away. She didn't need to answer that question for they had demonstrated it on her in the rooms. Before Luana had come and saved her, taken her under their wing. It had been a Weiroon Dreadlord that had tortured her and forced her visions upon her ruthlessly and with no break. If Janus hadn't discovered and intervened she would have been dead by now from seizures long ago. Luana protected her. Cared for her.

Janus could see all this playing through her mind and nodded encouragingly. She would never know the truth, never know that Luana had planned this all from the start for her. He stood in a rustle of robes and began walking again with the young girl following at his heels like a mute obedient puppy.

* * *
"Do you, Janus Loriaire, swear in the name of the King, to abide by Anirian Law and Statute. That the words you speak are true and accurate?"

"I do."

"Please," the judges voice gentled. Janus was the man who had ensured the war had not been a hard loss after all, he was the hero who had brought this abomination to justice. "Tell us your account."

Janus spared Zana a brief look, glanced too to Sullivan and then launched into his made up tale.

"It started like any other mission Your Honour. The men fought valiantly. We were outnumbered - the information we had received previously had clearly been wrong. A traitorous act I have since found out and helped your good self and Lord Sullivan here to uncover bring those men to justice. However, the spirit of the men and women of Vel Anir was not to be broken by a large opponent. The weight of our people are four times that of any other force, so we fought as we did. The battle was not going as I had hoped but I had come up with a way to lessen our losses and to tactfully retreat so that we could come back anew with more Dreadlords to aid us."

There was a sympathetic nod from the crowd. This was the tale they had all heard, that they all knew. The way Janus had battled on the beaches with his men shoulder to shoulder, had spent himself nearly to his last bit of energy with his speciality gifts of manipulating water. If it weren't for Janus more men would have died.

"I believed we should stick together. I do not believe in leaving men to die. However, Lazlo spoke up and offered to lead a group of men as a distraction force for the rest of us. I was against the idea in my gut, I was the ranking Officer and I should have..." he turned his hand into a pained fist as if he couldn't bare to go on.

"Please.... Janus... when you can," the Judge leaned forward. Every jury member craned forward too, their eyes wet with unshed tears. Janus nodded slowly, took a breath and continued.

"Like all of you I knew of Lazlo's decorated history. I trusted in this myth that the man was a legend amongst men truly and I my admiration of one of Vel Anir's finest I... trusted him to take a unit and face the enemies. I told him to only take those who volunteered. If I had known he had just taken men at random I would have known something was wrong... at least I can only hope I would have in the heat of battle."

Someone passed him a glass of water and shook his head dramatically. He would finish this tale.

"But then... when we were on the beaches I saw the reason why he truly wanted us separated. To wield his dark magics and to take the souls of the men and women of his group - and of the enemy - to strengthen himself and his repulsive nature. I shall not recant the full horrors for the delicate amongst those present today, Your Honour, but the likes of which scarred my unit to the core. Many of them choose not to speak at all for what they saw on that day, how he ripped people apart with his magics, tore out their very souls and ate them..." a shared shudder rippled through those gathered. Nobody needed to hear the tales of course, Luana had made sure they would hear them. Whispered in the corridors between maids, shared darkly over the rims of mugs in pubs, the occasional guard found weeping in a darkened alley. "I told those I still had command of to go and abandon the fight, I am not ashamed to admit. No matter the horror of the enemy the greater horror was this man and I had to do something. With the last of my strength I brought him to heel and then home to justice, though I wanted desperately to kill him there for the horror he had inflicted on the group of Guards I had trusted to him."

"I believe we have heard enough, thank you Janus, I know how hard it must have been for you to relive this."
 

Lazlo Harkon

"Lord" of Carrion Gulch
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Lazlo Harkon listened, too dead inside to really care. He died a long, long time ago, when he returned home. After the battle, he and his Regiment had limped across Cortos, pirating and foraging to survive. They returned to VelAnir months after.

At first, it was desertion. That charge had been dropped against all but him, at his testimony that he had commanded them during their withdrawl. The desertion charge was about to vanish as well, as there was nothing to pin on him, not enough to make him the scape goat. Then, the real story started to get out.

Observers who were not Guard, drunkards trying to bury and forget, the last goodbyes of soldiers who couldn't handle the dreams anymore. One by one, cracks formed from those that the now-dubbed Carrion Gulch had killed long ago yet let them walk. Those men, many of the Gulchers as they were called, had died at home to their own knives.

You could try to forget the Hellfire, licking at corpses, burning the flesh yet never to cinders, always the rotten stink of meat. Of carnage. You could try and drown it in drink, in whores, in dice.

Carrion Gulch didn't forget you, however. It never forgot, and it never let you go.

He looked up, the latest string of lies... he didn't even know who this man was. He talked and talked, acted and paraded... Retreat? How? They were inland by two miles and the only way out was through. He was right about one thing, however.

Even Lazlo Harkon, once prodigious commander, the patriot who quelled insurrection through inspired leadership, knew he had crossed a line. He had tried to use his abilities, his ability to see ghosts, to ask the dead too much. He asked them to shield his unit from the fireballs and artillery.

And now Carrion Gulch burned with Hellfire.

"I call to the stand," declared the judge, "Lieutenant Samuel. Do you..."
______

Elsewhere...

Sergeant Taryn Graccus looked over the massive collection of gold. All of it from house Weiroon. Twelve soldiers, twelve Gulchers, each one paid off... or so it was hoped. They were Guard, but more than that, they were Gulchers. Something like that changed a man.

"Think it's enough?" Asked Corporal Markus Septus, "Bribes in the capital don't come cheap," he warned.

Yeah, they didn't. That's how he knew it would be enough. It had to be.

"The trial is over in an hour," Taryn Graccus confirmed, "let's get to our-"

The door opened. Swords flashed from scabbards and men rose... however, the man entering was Lieutenant Janus Vvalden. He rushed to the table, tossing a heavy bag of coin.

"It's everything," he said, his sallow eyes locked on Taryn, "I sold everything I can't take with me."

Silence.

"So, you're going too?" Asked Markus, receiving a nod.

"I have to watch out for him. He got me home," Vvalden confirmed, "now I have to repay the favor."

Taryn nodded, "Right... you get out of the city then. Link up with the wagon; tell Mamaw Yaba that the kid is on his way."

A salute, a grasp of the arm... then, a tear filled hug. These men knew what had to be done. They gathered the gold, hid their weapons, and left the sad hovel in the dark. They had their places to be.
____

Lazlo looked up; another lie. It seemed that only one man so far had spoke truthfully. It was his man, Mannir. He had honor. He had a conscience. Lazlo wished he had stayed quiet... be deserved, more than those who would benefit, to climb. He was a diamond in the rough.

If more Donric's were in Vel'Anir, this would have never even happened. There would have neither been a Carrion Gulch, nor a trial.

"Liars..." managed Harkon weakly, gritting his teeth. His eyes became vivid, and across the court room frost began to creep upon glass.

"Liars!" He roared, standing tall, his voice hissing throughout the court room, a whisper in every ear.

Hair on each and every man and woman stood up. A chill up the Spine. The light dimmed, and the skeleton of a starving man looked for all the world like the most terrifying apparition to behold.

The Judge slammed his gavel, a whole half minute after the outburst. A few jurors had fainted from fear.
 
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Donric Mannir

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The streets of Vel Anir were empty the day of the trial. The usual patrols of feather-cloaked guardsman were scant and sparse. The men on the ground were few.

The ruling houses, in their infinite wisdom, had decided that the bulk of the home guard would be sent to neighbouring cities under the guise of 'training exercises'. The Guard looked after their own. They knew it, they feared it. However, small the chances of unrest amongst the military were, they were not zero. The general sentiment amongst the men, even those who avoided the Gulchers, was one of discomfort. A trial like this, against such a high-ranking individual, was a slight against them. A slight against their independence.

In reducing the strength of the home guard today, they had sealed their fate. The plan had been set in motion, it began the moment Lazlo was released from his cell. Years in the making, the Gulchers had been saving, plotting, waiting. Palms had been greased, favours had been called in and oaths had been sworn.

The result?

The crews manning Vel'Anir today were composed, largely at least, of Gulchers. To avoid suspicion their names, records, ranks had all been falsified. Nobody would suspect a thing until it was too late, by then Lazlo would be free.

The Dreadlords escorting Lazlo had been relieved once he reached the court. Thankfully their hubris had overcome them. Escorting such a broken individual, one warded from head to toe to prevent any magic being cast, was beneath them. He wasn't a threat in their eyes, he was a worthless traitor. Their departure had been a relief to Donric. They had contingency plans in case the Dreadlord's had chosen to escort Lazlo to his prison, but they were unnecessary now.

Donric breathed deeply, his face keeping a stony composure as he was escorted from the Courtroom. He wasn't allowed to watch the proceedings, he wasn't privileged enough for that. No, instead he'd been resigned to the Court's Guard Regiment. A sick joke, some Noble had assigned him to be on guard whilst the man he testified for was led to his death.

The joke was on them. When the court's regiment was signalled to reinforce the contingent of soldiers escorting Lazlo, he would lead them into a trap. The Gulchers would prevent the backup from arriving, giving the men on the ground time to free him.

It didn't sit well with him, leading his own brothers and sisters into such a trap, but there was no alternative. The figures in charge of the Court's Guard were incorruptible - a rarity in Vel'Anir. Plus, they currently composed of several outspoken critics of Carrion Gulch, so they deserved a few bruises.

Donric was to be left behind of course. Someone had to spring the trap. He exhaled, finally, after several long moments. Returning to his posting outside the Court.
 

Sullivan

Might Makes Right
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Clearly this man was guilty. Using his sick and twisted magics to instill fear in this honest courtroom. It was sickening, unbecoming of the justice system that Vel Anir tried so hard to build. Magic, particularly unregulated magic, did not belong on the battlefield or within the city's walls. It especially did not belong in a court of law.

"Do not even think of using your vile sorcery in this court!" Sullivan bellowed before the honorable judge shot him a nasty look. He was certain several of the common folk respected the sentiment though. They weren't interested in seeing hellfires created within their fair city.

If he weren't so close to the epicenter of this illegal mage there was a part of the Weiroon financier that would've enjoyed such a deliberate and outlawed display of power. The people would be disgusted, House Harkon would be shamed into disrepair, and he figured they could expand the limitations and monitoring of magic users within their borders. All of that would've played to his family's advantage.

But, more important than any of that, was his own skin. He had a consortium of guards accompanying him but he was certain they'd be little more than cannon fodder if the accursed lad got out of control and started carving up innocents within the courtroom.

Regardless of what happened next, sure such an inappropriate outburst from the defendant would confirm his guilty status.
 

Lazlo Harkon

"Lord" of Carrion Gulch
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The outcry surprised Lazlo. He was not aware of, or even in control, of what was going on. Horror dawned on his face slowly, realizing that somehow, someway, the spirits haunting him had lashed out at everyone here. Even if he was innocent of the crimes he was accused of, even if they sent him to the gallows for the wrong reasons to cover the blunder that even started the offensive...

Lazlo Harkon knew he deserved to die. He was every bit the terror they said he was.

Once more resigned emptiness echoed throughout him, a profound sadness that you could feel radiate off of him. The unnatural cold did not diminish, though it hardly stopped the proceedings.

"This court calls to the stand, Dreadlord Helomachus," announced the judge, looking to a finely dressed woman, "Do you swear in the name of the King, to abide by Anirian Law and Statute. That the words you speak are true and accurate?"

The Dreadlord, likely a junior, affirmed with a nod and "I do so swear."

The Judge leaned back, looking over the court room, "Then please; explain to the court what Hellfire and magic the accused is guilty of."

The Dreadlord, probably better schooled than anyone in this room was, could have made up anything. She could have said it was space gas of the second moon when the tooth fairy came, and it would have been just as readily accepted. As it stood, however, Helomachus was not sworn to a house yet and was picked for this interview entirely due to her neutral stance. Additionally, she truly knew what she was looking at, having a strong sense of WitchSight.

"The accused, General Harkon, is haunted;" he stated, looking up at the ceiling, "He is currently host to well-over eight-thousand Anirian souls which have latched onto him. It is not speculation to add that, as long as he lives, more souls of the departed will be drawn to him with or without his consent, further adding to the issue. I suspect that all those dead are the slain during the battle for Carrion Gulch."

She paused, looking back down at Harkon, "His vital spark is fully extinguished, though the spirits haunting him seem to be channeling energy for him, keeping his body and mind functioning. In simple terms, until he is exercised of a majority of the spirits, he will not die."

"This is known more commonly as Necromancy," she summed up, looking back to the judge, "Though from his lack of knowledge and experience, the attempt has backfired horribly."

The judge nodded, taking the information in, "And, what of Hellfire? Explain to us what is occuring at this very moment in Carrion Gulch."

The Dreadlord closed her eyes, thinking for a moment, before looking back at Harkon, "Hellfire is a form of Pyromancy, one saturated in dark magic. Our understanding of it is limited to counter-spelling and academic pursuit, though this will likely prove sufficient for this discussion. It is, basically, a form of fire that feeds directly off of pain and agony, burning the emotion as fuel while damaging and burning the material."

A few gasps, an angry cry, before a sharp gavel-slam, "Order in this court!"

The Dreadlord waited for the nod to continue, resuming that "However it is caused, Hellfire extinguishes life and mutilates the mundane, but it doesn't truly burn. As such, Carrion Gulch is caught in an inferno, sustained by all the pain caused there, where the corpses will rot for years without decaying completely. It is, in a way, a snapshot of the battle. Locked in its closing act, unable to progress."

All eyes turned to Harkon; how wicked, how vile a man could he possibly be to bring about such sorcery. Even the Dreadlords, the most powerful of the mages on Arethil, considered it taboo. Or atleast so the populace considered, and the jury were told. Black flames that roiled and flickered like oil smoke, wreathed in heat and the feeling of a blood-curdling scream, haunting Carrion Gulch. Granting that cursed place its very name.

"Very well. Thank you, Dreadlord," the judge announced, "The court has no further questions." With a nod, they left the witness stand and proceeded to the exit; they cast an eye back at Harkon. Was it pity? Or perhaps envy? Did she want the power he had unwillingly been thrust into, or did she think he was a victim of fate? Whatever it was, Harkon's gaze left her and with that all thought of her. He looked to the judge, as he prepared to deliver the verdict.

"On the count of treason:" he declared;
"Guilty" answered the jury, unanimously.
"On the count of concealing magic:"
"Guilty"
"On the charge of using dark magic:" the judge said, changing the charge due to the new information that had come to light;
"Guilty"
"Lazlo Harkon," the judge hissed, "This court finds you Guilty of all charges. You are to be exercised, drawn, and quartered. It is this courts recommendation that no effort be spared to exact justice for the Guard you have enslaved with your necromancy, nor in repaying the debt you owe to Vel Anir."

The gavel rang out, loud, hard, a nail driven into a coffin with each fall.

Harkon did not look up, did not move. He was later dragged by the arms, this time by two sallow-eyed Guard, roughly. His chains dragged and his head slumped. He offered no resistance nor aid. In his mind, he was dead. More than this, he was a corpse that didn't know better. His life had been a sad one, he tried to live just and dutiful...

He looked up, towards the door, catching sight of his father and brothers; three scowling faces, each with hate. Five years ago, his father had finally declared Lazlo a Harkon. Finally given him a name, welcomed him into the family. It was the happiest he had ever been. Now, he was once again simply Lazlo, Lazlo the Bastard. He supposed his mother, as well, would have scowled at him were she here. His crimes were worthy enough of even her hate.

He was dragged out, finally able to see the sun once more; it was setting, now. Orange light bathed Vel Anir in golden hues, in blood. The city bled and more than just the light of dusk washed it in sin. Lazlo had no will to act, no will to even mope. He was so, profoundly, broken. Tired. If anything he was relieved. It was finally going to end.
____

Nearby...

Some thirty cloaked figures milled among the crowd. Each of them, spread out, scanning. They knew exactly where to be, they just needed to know when to start. Agents across the city were carefully setting up distractions, their own men were among the number escorting Lazlo. There was only one thing left to do...

Move to position, and await the signal. Javelins, Swords, even a warhammer just for the Lieutenant that would be accompanying their man into the ambush in his heavy armor. Crossbows stashed two weeks prior were retrieved, strung and loaded. They only had a few moments to pull this off. All of them were ready.

Just a few moments more, and the Guard would make it very well known what happened when you framed their own.
 
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Zana

Second Level
Dreadlords
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The gavel came down.

Thud...

...Thud...

......Thu-

The courtroom vanished.

Before her spread a battleground. Men and women - Dreadlords. politicians, men, women, children - lay dead at her feet. With every step there was a crunch of bone so densely packed were the bodies of the damned. Broken banners of all the houses fluttered in a foul breeze. Zana stumbled and the vision shifted. Lazlo rode before an army up and down the ranks of... of Guards. Anirian Guards. It was hard to deny the symbols on their armour even though over the top some twisted symbol had been painted instead.

They screamed his name and chanted. They marched at his back with a sense of righteousness.

Her stomach turned and the perspective shifted again. Now she stood behind him and watched in horror as he walked into the maws of those forsaken lands amongst the Hellfire. It greeted him like a friend and he stretched his out his hands towards it. There was no resistance and it poured into him as he laughed. Carrion Gulch burned no more. She tried to turn and run but as she did he was in front of her. A million souls screamed at her through his eyes as he put a heavy hand on her shoulder. The souls rushed into her and she brought her hands up in a desperate attempt to stop them...

She was standing on the edge of a great spire and she felt as if she were about to fall as the wind tore at her clothes. Black bony fingers wrapped around her arm and yanked her back and off her feet, twisting her round to stare into the hollow eyes of the skeleton before her. Horror filled her.

"I see you."

* * *
"Zana... Zana!" Janus had never seen such a horrific reaction to a vision. A small space had cleared when the young girl had fallen with the last fall of the gavel. People were calling for a medic but he knew they would be of little help. Foam had formed at her lips, blood was pouring from her nose and eyes and ears. He shook her harder, his hands moving from her forehead to her cheeks with cool water formed hoping to shock her awake.

"I must take her to Ashur," with care he scooped the girl up in his arms and strode from the room murmuring apologies. Such a weak display in a public place would make her an easy target in the Academy later on. He cursed himself for bringing her here when he had known the pain the vision of Carrion Gulch had caused her in the first place. It was when the cool air of the outside touched her than her eyelids fluttered open.

"He..."

"Hush child."

"Janus...."

"You're in no state to talk."

"He does not die today."
 

Donric Mannir

Member
Messages
59
Donric looked down at his feet as the sight before him unfolded, watching Lazlo broken in the trial had been hard. Watching the man dragged by the Guard broke him. His grip tightened instinctively on his mace, his knuckles whitened and Donric began to grind his teeth in anguish. His partner, a nasty bastard called Grent, snickered as he watched the former commander being dragged along.

"Serves him right, the magic-wielding bastard - heard he slaughtered the guard and mind-controlled those Gulchers." He stated matter of factly towards Donric. Donric bit his tongue but said nothing, instead, he glanced up at Lazlo and smiled knowingly. The two burly men either side him - and several of the armoured figures around him - Donric recognised as survivors of the Gulch.

"Guards looks after their own, some people forget that." He muttered, saying no more and letting an uncomfortable silence ferment between him and Grent. Donric found his conviction, he knew his cause would righteous and, when the time called for it, he couldn't wait to give Grent a kick later when the ambush was sprung.

A trail of smoke rose in the eastern quarters of Vel'Anir. The signal that the proceedings were about to get underway. Agitators had been paid to spark a small riot within those quarters, drawing out the 3rd and 9th company to quell it. Labourers on strike in the western quarter would bring the 2nd and 10th company to maintain peace. That only left the 1st, the 7th and the Court Guard. The latter being the only one not entirely composed of Gulchers.

Donric watched Lazlo leave the courtyard, and turned his smiling face towards Grent. "You know, maybe you're right Grent, maybe he will get what's coming to him today."
 
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E

Elise Virak

Things had gone just as expected, though no doubt Father would want to express some great amount of displeasure at the 'injustice' of the other Houses.

It was not difficult to spin this in whatever direction one wanted to please. House Virak was on the side of the Guard, and thus was technically on the side of the accused...well, not guilty criminal. There was little doubt in her mind though that her father would have had the man killed anyway, but it was all about the public side of things.

No one wanted to admit the truth.

No one wanted to come out and say that poor Lazlo Harkon had sealed his fate the moment he'd saved his men. Elise Virak knew that to be true, and she was sure most of the other Nobles in this courtroom had exactly the same thought.

This trial was a sham.

No matter how much her father had pushed back, no matter what support he had offered the Guard. There had been no way for Harkon to survive.

Elise could only shake her head.

For her none of this mattered. She was here to play the sad little widow, the woman who supported the guard even through the Death of her husband. As Harkon was dragged from the courtroom Elise dabbed gently at her eyes with a tissue, a small sniffle pulling at her nose.

What a shame.
 

Lazlo Harkon

"Lord" of Carrion Gulch
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Lazlo Harkon was dragged, roughly but without any true malice, through the streets. The Headsman's block was nearby, but it wasn't his destination. He was headed to a dungeon, this time one manned and staffed by eager Dreadlords seeking to exploit and torment the fallen commander to whatever advantage they could make. It was the most shameful, denegrating fate that could await an Anirian. Then again, through this trial, Lazlo's own status as an Anirian had been called into question.

As a bastard of a noble and a Zykonii woman, someone had actually stated he was a spy. A rebel agent from the nomadic peoples whose wanderings lead the up and down the spine and throughout the reach. That his impure blood was a reason for him to stage this coup, to use Zyk devilry and curses to destroy his own command in a way to set back Vel Anir.

The procession had taken a turn, a shortcut through a watched alley and away from the crowds. A riot was occurring along the main path, something that would require a quick detour. They hurried quickly, knowing that even if they had crossbows along the second story that things could get shaky quickly.

"Good thing we had Guard already in position," said one of the men behind Lazlo, "the captain is great at thinking ahead."

As one, strings snapped loose and quarrels flooded the air. Silently, short blades were drawn and stuck into joints and weak points, a heavy hammer-blow falling upon the lead Guard in heavy plate. A few follow up blows as the melee devolved quickly into a perfectly executed ambush with no alarm raised in time to bring reinforcements...

"Lazlo... Sir," called a familiar voice. The general looked up, delirious, head swimming. Was it the spirits again? "He's bad... real bad. Alright, lost legion; wagon train is just outside the gate. Move out. Donric, unclench your jaw," added the voice. A harsh crack sounded as the soldier was brutally smacked with a mace across his helmet, enough to hurt and bruise, not enough to break anything.

"Alright... hand wagon there, get him under cover. Go, go," called the voice, and Lazlo felt the most gentleness he had in years in that moment, four sets of hands easing him into a handcart before a grainsack was lain atop him.

"Donric... toss them off our trail. It's been an honor, Sergeant," said the voice; it had been Sergeant Graccus, one of the masterminds of the plot. He had been the one Donric contacted to get the ball rolling two years ago, "I'll see you on the other side, brother."

The Gulchers shared an embrace amongst those who had to stay behind, and those who were now going to risk everything to get Lazlo out of the city. A few more disabling blows, a few volunteering to receive a broken limb to really sell it, and the scene was set. That the Gulchers had survived this Zykoni ambush would be testament to their skill, even if they failed. A city guard, gilded and armed with the best this great country could provide, had fallen to their trickery. Certainly it played into steriotypes, but that was one card that worked for the band's favor.

Now came the last stretch: To blend into the riot, and move through the gate to safety. Just outside, Lieutenant Vvalden had just finished preparations. A few more Gulchers, those with nothing left but their own companions, were ready to fight if it came to that. More than that, they were prepared to live with the choice, the treason, they had committed. The caravan was only waiting for a shipment of grain...
 
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Donric Mannir

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It wasn't long before the signal came. Bells rang from the courthouse, alerting the guardsman that they were required. A runner came not long after informing them of the situation. Riots had sprung up across the main thoroughfare and caused the contingent escorting Lazlo to divert their planned route. Although Donric had expected as much, yet the unease still wormed its way through his stomach. He sighed.

A few of the lads on guard turned their attention to Donric, one of the more senior members of the squad assigned today. "Right, if there's trouble down the thoroughfare, we'll have to rendezvous with them through the side-streets and back alleys. They'll be about the halfway point so let's hurry." Everyone nodded, it made sense, they were unaware that today Donric's heart lay not with the guard but with the Gulchers.

The Court Guard gathered and amassed, then set out with Donric near the front. It didn't take long for them to meet the riots, nor did it take long for them to change and find their way onto the back alleys. As they turned the final corner, Donric held his breath, he knew what was coming.

Violence erupted around them. Donric raised his sword and fought with some of the Gulchers - for show of course - he had encouraged and helped to bring the troop here, he needed to stay and ensure these men weren't tried or court-martialed. While he didn't particularly like these men, the Guard looked out for each other, and he wouldn't stand by and allow these innocent - if naive and foolish men - to be punished for the Gulchers actions. On that, his companions had agreed - one would remain.

As his men fell before him, Donric waited until he was the last man standing and embraced one of the leaders of the cause. Donric was struck across the jaw, yet remained standing, he shook his head.

"Look, you're going to have to hurt me more than a bashed-in head, I'm a good fighter, they'll suspect something." He winced, but his Sergeant nodded. The man struck Donric with a heavy blow across the torso - his armour crumpled and a rib was broken. Donric nodded, signalling the guard to strike again. The Sergeant sighed and pierced his weapon through Donric's shoulder.

Donric howled in pain, then slumped to the floor. Dazed, bruised, cracked and bleeding, he remained conscious. His final task, to send the reinforcements off the trail still remained before him. The soldier watched, through tearing eyes, as his friends and comrades set about - knowing he would never see them again.

30 minutes the reinforcements took. 30 minutes of struggle as he tried to keep his consciousness. He sent them to the western gate - knowing full well Lazlo was headed for the Southern one. With his job done, he passed out.
 
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Lazlo Harkon

"Lord" of Carrion Gulch
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With the Guard diverted, the escape was pulled off fluidly. The now-convicted "war criminal" Lazlo Harkon would be spirited away among a Zykonii caravan, who would take him to his family-clan near the spine. It would be a hard life, with none of the creature comforts of rank in the Guard, but it was a chance to live.

Vvalden sat on the back of the barrel topped wagon as it began to rattle away, he and twelve other Gulchers having decided that it was better to leave Anir forever than be victimized for their honor. The real story would get out; this was too well executed to be anything besides an inside job. No one would do anything though.

What could they do? The matter of his transport, and the ambush, was on the Guard. Vvarden watched as the city began to recede from view, his memories of a golden city on the hill tarnished. Still... he had fought for Vel Anir, and now he was retiring. There was enough death to last him a lifetime.

Within the wagon, lain upon a hammock, Lazlo held a thousand yard stare. He needed rest; food, water, healing, and peace. He felt dead inside, that feeling of dread when the reality of everything you had falling away and being condemned to a nightmare had sunk in.

It would take him years to move past this day. He would never move past Carrion Gulch. One day, he knew, he would return there. One day he would truly answer for his crimes, and not for the false charges levied against him. Until then...

Lazlo Harkon was a dead man, one that refused to die.
 
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