Lisa Smedman, Jess Lebow, Paul S. Kemp, Troy Denning, Jessica Beaven, R.A.Salvatore, Elaine Cunningham,Philip Athans, Murray J.D. Leeder, Ed Greenwood,Richard Lee Byers, Peter Archer
Realms of Shadow
Lisa Smedman…Trial by Ordeal
Jess Lebow…Assassin’s Shadow
Paul S. Kemp…Too Long in the Dark
Jessica Beaven…Liar’s Game
R.A.Salvatore…That Curious Sword
Elaine Cunningham…A Little Knowledge
Philip Athans….Astride the Wind
Murray J.D. Leeder…The Fallen Lands
Ed Greenwood…When Shadow Come Seeking a Throne
Richard Lee Byers…King Shadow
Peter Archer…The Shifting Sands
Trial by Ordeal
Netheril Year 3389 (The Year of Perdition's Flame, — 470 DR)
Hands clasped behind his back, Andoris Derathar stared out the warded window at the drifting clouds that veiled the farmland so far below. The city was currently floating over a lush checkerboard of leaf-greens, wheat- yellows and loamy browns, but in the distance he could see a ridge of sun-bleached white that should not have been there: the low dunes of the encroaching desert.
He had just come from the Hall of Judgment and was still wearing his robes of office: a starched and pleated black kilt that hung to the floor and a long-sleeved black shirt with a pair of scales, embroidered in gold thread, on its left breast. A gold cord was knotted around his waist. Suspended from it was a mask-a smooth circle of ivory with holes for eyes and nostrils, and a slit for the mouth. Its color matched that of Andoris's white-blond hair, which was receding on either side of a high-swept forehead. The face of the mask was as bland as Andoris's own; his beardless cheeks were smooth-unmarred by lines of age or worry.
Turning away from the window, Andoris regarded the gem he had been holding behind his back: an enormous blood-red ruby, faceted at such odd angles that the sides of the gem seemed to turn in upon themselves. Drifting at the center of it was a ghostlike essence that twisted slightly-the soul of the man Andoris had just found guilty of murder. Two holes that might have been eyes stared mournfully out through the walls of the crystal prison.
'Death,' Andoris said, repeating the sentence he had just imposed, 'without possibility of resurrection for fifty years.'
He placed the ruby in a niche on the wall beside a dozen others.
Behind Andoris, a homunculus-a vaguely humanlike creature with green, leathery skin, enormous batlike ears, and glistening black eyes-gave a faint snort. Folding its leathery wings around itself like a cloak, it made a disdainful gesture with webbed fingers.
Horbal was a cruel bastard, it said in a voice that was part squeak, part croak-a voice that only Andoris could hear. He killed that cat slowly-and enjoyed watching it suffer. You should have given him five hundred years, not fifty.
Andoris stared down at the homunculus. Even standing fully upright, the creature was no taller than his knee. Created through an alchemical process with a pint of Andoris's own blood, it was in constant telepathic contact with its master. In the years since its creation, it had served as an invaluable tool in Andoris's climb up the ranks of the judiciary.
'Fifty years is the punishment proscribed by law for the killing of a familiar,' Andoris told it.
He spoke the words aloud-something he only did when he and the homunculus were alone.
It isn't fair! the homunculus whined. That bastard Horbal will be free in fifty years, while poor Jelal The homunculus had been reaching for the ruby, intending to give it a furious shake. Even though this wouldn't damage the gem or its contents, decorum had to be maintained. Andoris forced his will into the homunculus's mind and wrenched its arm down. Sulking, the creature huddled into itself, nursing a dislocated shoulder.
Andoris, his mind shielded from the pain, stared down at the homunculus with a face as dispassionate as the mask that hung at his belt. With a flick of his fingers, he cast a healing spell.
A moment later, he heard sharp raps at the door. His finger pointed in silent command, and the homunculus stiffened, then scurried under a table. It watched with large, luminous eyes as Andoris first cast an illusion spell to mask its presence, then flicked a sparkle of magical energy in the door's direction, unlocking it. 'Enter.'
The door swung open, revealing Justice Vlourir, a woman with long black hair and deep frown lines across her forehead. She wore a judge's black kilt and shirt, with an ivory mask at her belt.
'Lord High Justice Derathar,' she said, 'I am sorry to trouble you so soon after your sentencing, but there is a case requiring your judgment.'
A small fist thumped in irritation under the table, but went unheard.
'What is the charge?' Andoris asked in an expressionless voice.
'Espionage-specifically, the theft of state secrets. The arcanist Algar Ptack was, under direct commission from Lord Karsus, researching a way to reverse one of his spells. Lord Karsus hoped the reversed spell might be used to further decipher the Nether Scrolls. Ptack's research notes from that project, however, were stolen.'
Andoris nodded. Lord Karsus had confided in him, some time ago, the details of this particular research project. Ptack was trying to reverse his secret script spell, an incantation that made even magical text indecipherable to anyone who didn't know the command word that would negate the encryption. If he succeeded in reversing the spell-assuming the Nether Scrolls were ever found again-the enclave that possessed that spell would be the first to read the scrolls' secrets and would become the most powerful in all the land. The case was certainly an important one, but did that mean Andoris had to hear it?
From under the table came a small sigh, audible only to Andoris.
'High Justice Emilus Wentar is qualified to hear evidence in capital cases,' he said.
The frown lines on Justice Vlourir's face deepened. 'He has heard the case, but he finds it impossible to reach a judgment. He says the trial invokes questions about legal procedure that only the Lord High Justice can answer- and that the testimony itself presents an insoluble puzzle.'
Visible only to Andoris, the homunculus sat up, ears erect and a gleam in its eye. A puzzle?
As if she had heard the echoed question, Justice Vlourir continued, 'There are two defendants. High Justice Wentar said deciding which is guilty is like trying to choose between a reflection and a mirror.'
What do we suppose he meant by that?
Andoris merely inclined his head. 'Where is the case being heard?'
'In the Spiral Court. It has been adjourned temporarily, and High Justice Wentar awaits you there.'
Andoris nodded. 'Inform High Justice Wentar that I'll join him at once.'
The Spiral Court had been named for its dominant feature: a flat inlay of white ivory, about two paces wide, that spiraled up the wall of the circular chamber. As voices echoed up from the floor of the deep, well-like chamber, ebony-black letters flowed up the spiral: a transcription of the testimony being given below.
The force of gravity had been twisted during the construction of the Spiral Court, allowing its walls to serve