Shade of Grey
YES, YOU ARE DEAD
"Dropping that thing into a volcano should have done the deed," the taller and much larger figure said with a laugh as he stepped through the Ethereal Portal on to the cobblestones of a deserted back ally.
"Slow it down some, maybe; reduce it in strength a minimal amount, yes; kill it, no. There is no known way to kill a Demon Stalker short of Direct Divine Intervention," replied the shorter and much smaller figure. "Then we must have lost it traveling through the Ethereal Bad Lands, and that Essence Storm you kicked off has got to have done something," stated the taller man, somewhat unsure now.
"No we did not lose it, we just put some distance between us. 'The Storm' bought us about five minutes or so more delay, most likely less. We are going to separate here Pandarion, you are to going to find Damian and Kellion and meet me at the waterfront in an hour. While I lead this thing on a merry chase through..."
The area of the alley was suddenly engulfed in bright bluish-white light, very rapidly followed by a loud sharp crack of thunder as the light rapidly faded. The small man reached out and touched the larger man, who instantly shot rapidly up into the air, fading from sight as an Invisibility Contingency spell took effect. Even before the large man had reached half his height about the ground, the smaller man spun about, while he pulled a throwing dagger from his left forearm sheath and threw it in the exact direction of the thunder. He then chanted a few syllables of an Arcane Spell and disappeared in a pop as the air rushed in to fill the void the man had just vacated.
The dagger flew through the air, only to stick into a black short inhumanly thin humanoid like figure. The blackness of the being was so complete that it was impossible to look at. It was as if the outline of the being was actually cut out of reality, revealing the absolute blackness beyond. It turned about as if scanning the area for something, then it shimmered a bit as if seen through hot wavering air, and disappeared once again into the ethereal, the dagger still embedded in its chest right where its heart would be if it had one.
Somewhere Outside of Time
~WHEN DID IT ALL START?~ The Voice asked, by placing the words directly in the Grey's mind, the effect was so perfect that he thought he had in fact heard them being spoken.
"I don't really know, I think it was just after the fall of Valencia, but before the 'Long Night' got underway. That would make it the winter of 5476 old calendar. Who are you anyway?" asked Grey.
~YOU KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION, responded the Voice.
From the 'heavy' quality of the voice, Grey knew that he as in the presence of, or to be more exact talking with a HIGH LORD, or if you prefer a GOD, even if the voice did sound exactly like his own.
"Just looking for conformation: so I am dead then?" asked Grey.
~YES! VERY DEAD!~ answered the Voice.
"Why do you sound like me?" asked Grey.
~YOU KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION TOO, answered the Voice.
"Just making sure I am dead," explained Grey
~YES, YOU ARE DEAD, confirmed the Voice with a slight sigh, which Grey correctly interpreted as a growing impatience with his unwillingness to accept the obvious.
"Why do I seem to be floating is a sea of grayness? Where are you? Where are the Halls of Judgment? Where is my Soul Body?" Grey asked each question growing angrier with each one.
~CALM YOURSELF. YOU CAN THINK OF THIS AS A PLACE OF TRANSITION, I AM ALL AROUND YOU, I AM THE GRAYNESS, AS YOU HAVE NOT YET ARRIVED AT THE HALLS, YOU DO NOT NEED A BODY YET, answered the Voice.
"How long have I been dead?" asked Grey, his anger replace with curiosity.
~TIME IS NOT A CONCEPT THAT APPLIES HERE, THERE IS ONLY NOW, IT IS ALWAYS NOW; NO PAST, NO PRESENT, NO FUTURE, answered the Voice.
"Wonderful, how long am I going to be here? No don't tell me, I have been and will always be here. Right?" Grey asked with a soft laugh.
~NO, YOU WILL BE ARRIVING AT THE HALLS, IN A VERY SHORT PERIOD OF SUBJECTIVE TIME, replied the Voice.
"Can we just sort of bypass them, I am not really looking forward to what is to come, and I would really prefer to just avoid the whole experience if I can?" asked Grey wanting to avoid the mental and emotional anguish that comes with Judgment...
~YES, IF YOU WISH, YOU CAN AVOID THE HALLS; THE RESULT WOULD BE NON-EXISTENCE FOR YOU THOUGH, answered the Voice, with a playful laugh.
"Oh! In that case I guess being Judged is not all that bad, giving the alternative. So, are you going to answer my question, why am I here and not in the Halls of Judgment?" asked Grey trying to bring The Voice back to the question.
~NO, THERE WILL BE TIME ENOUGH FOR THAT LATER. AT THIS TIME YOU DO NOT HAVE A 'NEED TO KNOW', I AM SURE YOU UNDERSTAND. SUFFICE IT TO SAY, THAT YOU WERE HERE BECAUSE IT IS NECESSARY FOR TO YOU TO BE HERE, BESIDES WE HAVE ARRIVED, answered The Voice.
Instantly, there was sound, weight, a blur of surroundings, and Grey was standing before three large empty white thrones, all sitting on a raised dais of highly polished black stone. Though the voice was silent, Grey knew that it was still present. Then as if they were always there, the three Judges were there sitting on their thrones, MULUNU with her Sword T'Colos; SORCAMOR with it's All-Seeing Orb, and Blind KOS with his Red Staff. They were dressed in simple white robes; each was bare foot, except for SORCAMOR whose hooves were unshod. Grey was dressed in the black robes of the recently dead; wearing a pair of well cared for commando boots. Grey examined himself and as far as he could tell his soul body was an exact copy of his living body, old scars and all, as it was at the exact instant of his death, including the black obsidian dagger that was embedded in his chest and heart, the last of which Grey was not aware of at all.
The three Judges just stared at a point just past Grey, when they should have already started telling him that he was in Halls of Judgment, and his past life was to be judged to determine the fate of my soul. But they just sat there, looking not quite at him, almost as if they were staring into, through and somehow past him to someone or something else.
The Lady Destiny
They are in fact looking directly at a limited manifestation of myself, that they are able to perceive. 'Whom am I?' you ask. I have many names, 'Lady Luck', The Hand of Fate', 'That Insane Bitch', and some other less flattering titles; but I prefer 'Lady Destiny'. And for the record, I do not work for, nor am I associated with THE FATES. Now pay attention to this next part, it is very important to what is destined to happen.
The Voice said, "THIS ONE IS MINE, YOU NEED NOT BOTHER YOURSELVES, I HEREBY CLAIM HIM." "WE ARE THE JUDGES, WE DECIDE HIS FATE," bellowed SORCAMOR.
"You have no claim on him what so ever, he is mine, I hereby claim him," calmly replied the Voice.
"HE MUST BE JUDGED, THE FATE OF HIS SOUL MUST BE DETERMINED," screeched MULUNU with her crow like voice.
"THERE IS NOTHING TO JUDGE, WITH REGARD TO THIS ONE. FATE WAS NEVER, NOR WILL IT EVER BE, AN ISSUE IN HIS LIFE, HIS ENTIRE EXISTENCE TO THIS POINT WAS PREDETERMINED. HE IS MINE AND I HEREBY CLAIM HIM," answered the Voice.
"HE LIVED, HE EXISTED, HE HAS A SOUL, HE MUST BE JUDGED, THE FATE OF HIS SOUL MUST BE DETERMINED," reasoned KOS.
"I HAVE SAID THAT HE IS MINE, AND I CLAIM HIM. THERE IS NO NEED TO JUDGE HIS LIFE AS IT WAS UNDER MY DIRECTION; THERE IS NO NEED TO DETERMINE HIS SOUL'S FATE, AS I ALREADY HAVE DETERMINED WHAT IT IS TO BE," stated the Voice.
"HE IS THE ONE, THEN," asked KOS?
"YES," responded the Voice.
"THEN WE WILL NOT INTERFERE, YOU MAY CLAIM HIM, BUT HE MUST REMAIN HERE IN THE HALLS OF JUDGMENT, AND HE MUST BE JUDGED; BUT YOU MAY DETERMINE HIS FATE," stated SORCAMOR.
"VERY WELL, IT IS AGREED THAT YOU MAY JUDGE HIM, BUT HIS FATE IS MINE TO IMPOSE," agreed the voice before its presence left The Halls of Judgment.
At a Judgment Station in the Halls of Judgment
The newly arrived, recently dead being encased in his soul body, once known as Grey, sits at a writing desk.
'Life takes on a completely different meaning when one is dead, ' wrote Grey on a simple scroll, one lacking any embellishments at all. 'And don't think for one second that the irony of that statement has escaped me. After all, when you are living, you are experiencing the moment, thinking about the future, or remembering the past.
After you are dead, all you can do is relive your past life, without any changes; no editing, no rewriting, just the life your lived, as you lived it. Of course, the purpose of this is to be judged, by THE POWERS THAT BE, or the LORDS OF JUDGEMENT, if you prefer, ' wrote Grey, with the last part looking very much as if it wrote it self with little or no direction from Grey.
Grey stopped writing at that point, and just stared at the quill, and then at what he a just finished writing. Putting the quill back onto its holder, he looked up at the three judges and said, "I thought I was supposed to be writing this, what was that last bit all about, I am specifically referring to the parts written in Upper Case? "Are you responsible for that? Because I certainly had no intention of writing that."
"YOU ARE REQUIRED TO SHOW THE PROPER RESPECT AT ALL TIMES," answered SORCAMOR pointing at Grey with his Orb, and staring at him with his three eyes.
"I'll keep that in mind," he replied with just a hint of sarcasm.
'While this is supposed to be about my life; be warned, that this work is not entirely my own, there will be occasional editorial changes, ' Grey wrote with some satisfaction.
'Perhaps I should introduce myself; Sabastion Greylan, at your service, Valencian by birth, Natalian by choice, professional adventurer by trade, 'AS IN A PERSON WHO GAINS WEALTH BY QUESTIONABLE MEANS!'
Grey threw the quill in the general direction of the holder, and looked up at the Judges, and with a great deal of effort, calmly asked, "What's that about, and what does it have to do with being respectful?"
"YOU ARE ALSO REQUIRED TO TELL THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH," replied KOS pointing the Red Staff of Truth at Grey, not bothering to turn his blind eyes to look at him.
Not saying anything in return, Grey picked up the Quill, and continued to write.
'Now you see what I mean, THE POWERS, only allow for the truth, all the truth, and nothing but the absolute truth, not taking the situation or personal point of view, into any consideration, ' Grey wrote taking obvious great pains when writing THE POWERS, to indicate the respect he did not feel.
"Anyway, as I was saying; for most of my professional career, I have resided in the City of Belisarius, the capital of Natal; a prosperous metropolis of slightly over half a millionHumans, Elves, Dwarves, and other beings...
'BUT YOU ARE GETTING AHEAD OF YOURSELF.' Interjected MULUNU.
'There, THE POWERS THAT BE, did it again, 'no editing, ' 'all the truth, ' 'nothing but the truth;' now they are dictating how I have to tell the story of my life. GODS it makes me sick. And another thing, the way THE POWERS THAT BE, and GODS, always appears in capitals, it's annoying.'
Mulunu point her Sword T'Colos, at Grey, who was lifted from his chair and slammed into the immense white pillar that stood ten feet behind the desk. There he writhed in intense pain as blue flame danced about his body. He did not, could not scream, because his total consciousness was involved in experiencing the PAIN.
"Don't ever describe THE POWERS THAT BE, as annoying, or question the wisdom of THE POWERS THAT BE; the results are unpleasant and extremely painful."
Grey's 3rd Law
After sometime had passed, the flames abated, leaving his clothing, body and obsidian dagger undamaged. He fell to the floor, and he just laid there for an eternal moment. Then he slowly climbed to his feet using the pillar a support, slowly walked back to his desk, set his chair upright and sat down.
~YOU PROBABLY SHOULD AVOID DELIBERATELY ANNOYING THEM, THEY ARE ALREADY HARBORING RESENTMENT, BECAUSE I HAVE INVOLVED MYSELF IN YOUR JUDGMENT, said The Voice.
"I thought they were supposed to be completely impartial, and besides I had nothing to do with your becoming involved," said Grey.
~THEIR CAREFULLY ORDERED EXISTENCE HAS BEEN DISRUPTED, AND THEY ARE SOMEWHAT ON EDGE BECAUSE OF IT. SO I REPEAT MY SUGGESTION THAT YOU DON'T ANNOY THEM, replied The Voice.
"I will take that under advisement. Which brings up the question, way did you 'involve yourself in my judgment', in the first place?" Grey asked, but The Voice had already removed its presence from the Halls of Judgment.
Picking the Quill up from the floor, he dipped the point in the ink well and started to write again.
'Well, to start at the beginning; I was born in the city of Narvia, in the province of Narvia, in the then Republic of Valencia; during the season of rains, in the year, 5476 CE, (Common Era). My parents Soltrus, and Cathia Gravi were silver smiths, with a Charter from the Governor of Narvia, father was also an officer in the town militia, and mother was something of a Hedge Wizard, with a rank of third circle. We lived in a fourteen room fashionable townhouse in the crafters quarter somewhere near the Fountain of The Lady. As it happened I was born with a good degree of the 'Talent, ' that is I could sense 'The Essence' and manipulate its 'Flow', an occurrence that was not uncommon. What was very unusual was that I could do so even with significant amounts of cold iron on, or surrounding me, a fact that my parents were soon to discover.'
'The ability to use magic begins even before birth; but the living aura of the mother prevents any manipulation of the Essence by the unborn baby. But once they are born the baby's aura begins to interact with the Essence flow. It is customary to 'Load' the child with iron wrist and ankle bands to prevent this from occurring. The iron acts to dampen the aura effects on the Essence and the Essence's effects on the child. In my case this was not the effect, in fact the iron loading had no effect at all. Even totally encased in an iron crib I was still able to cause Essence Effects or magic if you will. It was necessary for me to be kept in 'Dispel Magic' area effects and as I grew older the stronger the 'Dispel Magic' Spells had to be. Luckily about the time I left infancy and entered childhood I could be taught how to control my aura and its effects on the Essence. It wasn't until I entered puberty that they discovered the reason for my ability. I was able to sense the natural ambient Mana Field that is created by all living things. The iron did dampen my aura's effects on the Essence, it did not have any effect on the Mana Field and my aura could manipulate it just fine.'
"This detail is becoming exhaustive, and quite frankly a little boring, so if you don't mind I think I will just skip it and go on to the more interesting parts," Grey said to the three Judges, sitting on their thrones.
"IF THAT IS HOW YOU CHOOSE TO BE JUDGED, SO SHALL IT BE; YOU WILL BE JUDGED BY HOW YOU PERCEIVED YOURSELF TO HAVE BEEN, AND YOU WILL BE CONDEMNED BY YOUR OWN STANDARDS," replied KOS
"What do you mean, Condemned? I thought my fate was already determined..." Grey started to say, before he was interrupted by KOS.
"YOU ARE ALREADY CONDEMNED, BY YOUR ACTIONS AS YOU LIVED THEM, BY YOUR DEEDS AS YOU PERFORMED THEM, BY YOUR THOUGHTS AS YOU CONCEIVED THEM; JUDGEMENT IS TO DETERMINE WHETHER YOU WILL BE ALLOWED TO ASCEND OR BE RETURNED TO LIVE ANOTHER LIFE."
"Oh. Thank you for clearing that up for me," responded Grey.
Ignoring the opinion of the Judges, Grey closed his eyes and thought about one the more interesting parts his past life.
City of Belisarius
During the Second Batorn War
It was night, it was raining, there was an occasional flash of lighting, followed by booming thunder a few moments later. Just about perfect conditions...
"I'm telling you Bastion, you're putting on weight," said Pandarion.
"No Karl. My clothes are wet, the equipment in this damned pack is heavy, and there is the leather armour I have on," replied Bastion.
"What armour? You did not say anything about armour. Why wasn't I told? Why was I not issued armour?" "Karl will you shut up, compose yourself, and relax, but keep a tight grip on that rope. I did not tell you about the armour, as you are not going to need any. I am wearing armour in case I miss a trap and something nasty gets launched at me. Now if you will continue to lower me till I give the signal."
'What can I say about Karl Pandarion, He is the sixth son of a Narvian middle class family with very little money, certainly not enough to buy military or civilian officer rank, or provide much for political advancement. He stands roughly two standards tall, or if you prefer about seven feet four inches tall, with a heavy build, short black hair, dark eyes and olive complexion. He may look like a small giant, but he moves like a dancer, graceful, and fluid. The first time I saw him was in a line of new recruits for the 3rd legion. I had just completed my recovery from a mission gone bad, and I was looking for someone very much like him, or to be more exact, someone exactly like him; alright I was looking for him.'
Bastion made a series of small had gestures that signified, 'Stop. I'm there; give me a few seconds to secure my harness, then join me.'
Quickly he coupled a strap that connected his black body harness to the square wrought iron bars that protected the window; he then disconnected his harness from the rope that went up to the Pandarion on the roof. Taking a small spring driven bit, he drilled a hole through the wooden frame; the bit was then withdrawn. Moments later, Karl joined Sabastion, hanging upside down above the window and almost head to head with him.
"Why is it my friend that I'm always the one who gets to enjoy hanging upside down, with the blood rushing to my head?" asked Karl.
"Because, you are not able to sense the flow, even standing in a full blown Essence Storm, besides your are much bigger and heavier, I couldn't possibly lower you down with you carrying all the equipment. Now be quite and let me get on with this."
Sabastion pushed a narrow tube into the hole he had just drilled, as it penetrated through to the other side of the window he attached a lens like device he took from one of the small pockets that populated his vest. Looking through the lens, slowly re-focusing his eye, he began to see colors framing the inside of the window, blanketing the glass, and the walls, floor and ceiling of the occupied room beyond, mostly shades of red, but with clear bands of green around the interior of the window. Taking a moment to examine the occupant of the room, Sabastion suddenly withdraws the tube. Reaching quickly for the knife attached by belted sheath to his thigh; he reached up and cut the rope holding Karl, and then the strap holding him to the iron grate. The two fall momentarily, then hover, and disappear, as their voices fade out.
"Damn, I hate when you do that!" Cursed Pandarion.
"Would you rather be caught, imprisoned, put to the question by the Guard, then hung out to die a slow lingeri..."
Above the river that bisected the city of Belisarius, a heavy backpack appeared from no where and plunged into the black cold water, soon followed by black leather harnesses, leather breast and back plate armour; and a short time later, two shirts, two pairs of pants, two pairs of soft boots, and other assorted clothing all in black. All this as the rain continued to fall, the lightning flash and the thunder roar.
"How long do you figure till they find the pack Bastion?" asked Pandarion, as he stepped naked through the ethereal portal in to a tastefully appoint room with no windows, or even a door for that matter.
"Not before first light, and most likely not before the storms end; I would guess around midday. If they have not started to at least look by then we will have to try a more direct approach," replied Bastion as he too stepped fully clothed from the portal as it closed.
The larger man nodded his head, as he reached for robe and put it on. The smaller one, moving over to one of the two leather covered padded chairs by a fire. Sitting down, he gestures in the general direction of a chest.
"Pandarion would you get out the good General's dossier and read it? I want your opinion on something," asked Bastion.
"Sure, do you want a brandy or anything else while I am up?"
"No, not at the moment. I just want to think this through, there is something flittering around in the back of my mind that is bothering me about this mission, a more than vague sense that there is something not right about the details."
Sitting down with the scroll he had retrieved from the chest, and a glass of brandy, Pandarion joined Bastion at the fire. Pandarion reads, and absently sip his brandy; Bastion sat motionless, eyes closed, thinking.
Omar Raphael Pentala Ben David, Prince of the Bator, Caliph of Samacar, Commanding General of the Batorn Field Expeditionary Force occupying the Natalian Capital city Belisarius was, by all reports, one very nasty bastard. His file portrayed him as Evil incarnate, the Great Devil himself walking the world plane in human form. From what I have seen of him in action so far, his biographer was being kind. The previous afternoon we witnessed him publicly order the impaling of twenty-seven former high-ranking Nobles and leaders of the city. He then had each brushed down with pitch and set afire. Their crime? They refused to sign a document proclaiming the General, Protector of the City.
"Besides him being a complete bastard, what do you want my opinion on Bastion?"
"Tell me my friend, from reading his file, what do you think his sexual preference is?"
"Well he is married, has three wives, twenty-three children, eight grandchildren, and a harem of thirty or so Concubines and Slaves. I would say he preferred women. Why do you ask?"
"The General in that room last night was a eunuch, his Aura, and Spirit projection were those of the General, and no they were not illusionary or a façade. So tell me Bastion, why would a Prince, Caliph, and General of the Bator allow himself to be made a eunuch?"
"He wouldn't, he could not hold any of those titles if he where, Batorn laws are very specific on that. He is either a duplicate, set out to masquerade as the General, or there is something very wrong here."
"That dossier is very complete; I know, I complied most of it. The man on the other side of that window was Ben David; I have no doubt of that at all. It would take direct Divine Intervention to produce a duplicate that perfect, or some very powerful spell on the order of a divine wish, or someone who had complete mastery of Transmutation Magic. Even then there would be traces; we need to get a much closer look at the General."
"How close," asked Pandarion with a wary voice.
"Close enough to get some blood, skin, or hair, all three would be better," replied the small man with a grin.
'YOU MUST START AT THE BEGINNING, IF YOU ARE TO BE CORRECTLY JUDGED, stated SORCAMOR.
"What does it matter, as long as I get it all down? I do not see how the how the order my life is recalled is relevant as long as the information is complete..."
Do not ever argue with THE POWERS THAT BE, or give your opinion to THE POWERS THAT BE; the results are unpleasant and extremely painful.
Grey's 2nd Law
'You really should avoid confronting the Lord of Judgment. It will accomplish exactly nothing, and it is very painful, ' stated the Voice
You have returned; can you now tell me just what is going on, or do I still not have a 'need to know?'
'The agreement with the Lords of Judgment, was that you would be judged and I would determine your fate. Beyond that it is not necessary for you to know or understand what is going on. The reason for this is simple, what you do not know you cannot reveal to the Lords of Judgment, ' answered the voice.
"You expect me to recall my entire life, so I can be Judged, and have my already sealed fate determined. That is ridiculous, why should I go through that entire exercise for no apparent reason?" argued Grey.
'The Judges are seeking answers; they have insisted you be judged in the hopes of finding those answers. I have agreed to this because you do not have the answers that they seek. The process is not ridiculous; they have agreed that I will determine your fate, so it is not a wasted effort on your part. The fastest way for you to get through this is to answer the question I originally asked you. When did it all start?'
"When did it all start?" repeated Grey, "After the fall of Valencia, on a beach of Talian Bay, before the 'Long Night'..."