The roll of snare drums, followed by peaceful sound of a breeze rustling through the forest. The drums rolled again. The young woman felt the emerge from behind the clouds, and warm the parts of her face not covered by the blindfold.
The drums rolled a third time. She heard a scroll unfurl, and a man clear his throat.
“I, Captain Sered of the 4th company, 18th Legion, acting Magistrate of her Majesty the Empress, do charge you Nella Trentin, Half-Elf, Aged Twenty Three, resident of the village of Roltya with the following crimes against The Empress, her Lands, and Her Loyal servants.
He cleared his throat.
“Theft. Fraud. Murder of Her Majesty’s Loyal Servants”
He paused, clearly hoping to add some gravitas to the situation. “How do you plead?”
She smiled. “I think you missed a few. Also, the way you phrased it makes it sound like I just killed one of you.”. She didn’t fear death. She had done what she had set out to do, and as a result dozens of Imperial soldiers lay at the bottom of chasms, burried under rubble, or dead in shallow graves. She had made them pay ten times over for the death of her brother, and to her that was enough.
She knew her response would fluster the Captain. She had been his company’s guide for the past few months after all. He was tremendously competent given enough practice and prepatration. Deviate from the script, however, and he wilted like a flower dropped into a fire. She was glad to have these few moments to remember the times she had led his company through deliberately treacherous terrain, or directly into Bexellian ambushes. She laughed. Good times. The only regret she had was that she didn’t take more of them with her.
She could hear the Captain recompose himself. He cleared his throat again.
“The verdict: Guilty.”
There was no doubt that he had initially planned to let the word final word hang in the air. However, for the second time during her trial, things didn’t go according to Captain Sered’s plan. The silence he had prepared for was soon filled with the sound of gunfire. Then, screams of “Ambush”, followed by the unsheathing of weapons and battle cries.
She felt the hairs on her arms rise up, as a squad mage near her began to chant. There was a thunderous roar and flash of lighting that was so bright she could see it through her blindfold. While her ears rang, burned onto her eyes were the shadowy images of an imperial firing squad locked in combat with unknown attackers.
As the ringing subsided, she heard the chanting again. Blood spattered against her face, and the sound of bones breaking signalled the end of whatever spell was being wrought. “Cut the tongue. Break the hands” she heard an unknown voice yell. “You sound like my mother” said another.
The battle seemed to end as soon as it had started, with the sounds of boots crashing into the brush of the forest behind her.
“Any survivors?” shouted a gruff female voice “Besides the runaways I mean”
“Oy. You lot. Any of you still alive?” said another, this one thin and reedy and male. “Don’t make me poke you. I’ve got a new bayonet, and I’m fixing to try it out”
“Me!” shouted a few strained voices.
“Hey! None of that! No take backs!” said the second voice. “Was anyone watching? I completely forgot which ones were alive”.
“I fink I tipped a twooff” said a throaty, youthful voice. “Anyone fee any good prospectff?”
“Grims! This one!” said a new voice, this one low and melodious. “Lovely pearlies on this one”
Nella heard the man excitedly bound over, followed by an “oof”.
“Hey! I found another live one, fpoke. What fould I do wiff ’im?”
“Really?” Asked a voice, quavering in fear.
Silence. Then, laughter coming from all around the execution ground turned battlefield. The laughter continued as the man screamed in intense pain.
“Anyone got the hostage?”
“We could just leave her”
“She’s spilled Imperial blood. Look at her shoulder. Branded. Basically makes her one of the family as far as I’m concerned”
“How far are you concerned?”
“Not very far. I really don’t give a shit”
Aten it seemed, had decided to spare her. It looked like it was up to her to take advantage of this opportunity. She opened her mouth and said “37”
“Oooh. Someone knows numbers”
There were more screams in the distance.
“That’s how many I’ve killed” she continued “Imperials I mean”
“Is that a lot?”
“Sounds like a lot”
“Is that a lot?”
“Liar, how do you know?”
“37 means a lot everyone knows that.”
She heard footsteps come towards her, even as the bickering continued. The footsteps were punctuated by a few odd sucking noises. A coarse hand pulled her blindfold down, and she found herself looking into the eyes of a young man. His head was shaved, and he was missing an ear. Most strinkingly, was that his densely stubbled face was sporting two rows of unaturally perfect teeth, drenched in blood.